I am writing this from the comfort of a little wooden cabin in Cornwall, on the plot of land where my family’s holiday bungalow used to sit. I am here with my brother, spending a few days between busy periods to take some time away from the lives we live in London and Bristol, respectively.
The slow pace of life gave me time to think and write – so here is what I cover:
– My trip to Cornwall with my brother Louis
– Winter was an occupation.
– Do we need Winter?
Trip to Cornwall
While bungalow MkII is rising out of the ground, we are living on a building site. In the summer we camped under its walls, but now it is too cold to sleep comfortably outside. Luckily we can shelter in the cabin, however, while the builders are not here the cabin has no electricity, no heating and no lighting. Louis has the sofa to sleep on while I push together some pillows and a rollmat. Our water supply is from the mains tap, which delivers cool, delicious water straight from the heart of Cornwall.
I’m having a great time.
We arrived on Sunday, jumped in the sea for a cold surf and enjoyed the warmth of the sun while it slanted across the sky on its short winter journey. Dusk fell at around 4PM, but we had sourced some firewood and kindling and we were soon cooking our dinner of toast, baked beans and canned sardines – a camping classic – on our fire.
At 530PM the surrounding hills were invisible in the black. The sky was a deep blue that had seemingly crept up from the sea below. There is no light pollution here; we are on the edge of the land with no streetlights. There aren’t even lights in the houses – January is too cold for most visitors. I only suppose that this deep blue is meant to be, like, really, nature.
I fell asleep at 6PM.
The weather man had warned of severe rain and wind to reach the coast by Monday morning. I woke at 830AM to a dull grey sky, hearing strong winds tussling with the trees. With the knowledge that we had enough food for breakfast, enough wood for fire, and ample amounts of time for fun before the day draws to a close, there was nothing for me to do but go back to sleep.
When the wind blew away all the clouds to leave a bright sky, Louis and I ran one of our old routes to Rock. We came back, showered under the tap, ate simple food, read books and took a break from our relaxation to drink coffee in the cafe.
“Winter is not a season. It is an occupation”.
Winter is a threat.
Even spending a few days with relative scarcity of shelter, heat and food, I can see that without the amenities and comfort that the modern world provides us our time would be spent very differently.
Searching for firewood, finding food, building a shelter.
Worrying about it all – shall I spend my time fishing or preparing and laying traps?
How many hours can I gamble to do this without exposing myself to the elements?
How can I maintain my wood stock; how do I prevent my supplies getting damp?
Is my shelter watertight enough for me to stay dry during the night?
With few hours to do all of this, any person in this situation would have to work hard to survive. Winter is a threat. Winter exposes the human animal, driven by instinct and focussed on survival.
Now, our modern world allows us to be more comfortable and more safe. The benefits of this are countless! We don’t worry about sourcing food because supermarkets now deliver. We don’t need to wear 5 layers to protect against the wind – just turn the heating up. Boiler broken or hole in the roof? Call a handyman.
Want another benefit? We are more productive.
If I spent my days preparing for winter a la the aforementioned human-animal, I would have no time to write, to read, to ride my bike, run or surf. We can use all day to focus on our careers and our hobbies.
In our current world, Winter is ironically a threat to activities that make the “modern human”. Wintertime was defined by harsh conditions and hard survival. Now we have discarded winter, humans can define themselves.
If we live in a perpetual summer, when will it be winter?
What are the downsides of modern winter? Our warm homes, soft carpets, Netflix flickering on the TV?
Last night I slept from 6PM to 830AM. It was cold outside, so I didn’t want to leave the cabin. I had a 14 and a half hours sleep, then slept some more. I’ll probably sleep at a similar time tonight.
We built a fire, got some sun, exercised, explored, ate well.
I’m warm, I’m away from the stress of work and studying.
Emails are at a minimum – I had to walk to the village to get data.
Coffee for enjoyment, not for zing.
Social media? My online friends = Louis, sitting next to me.
Contrast this to the world I will soon rejoin – a perpetual summer – where we wake early and we sleep late. Our bodies can be worked on the same schedule all year, whether it is 6AM CrossFit or 9PM swim sessions, with long days of mental work sandwiched in between. We do not go hungry, and we can eat bananas in December.
These benefits provided by this world are obvious, however, we rarely focus on the downsides.
I hear you say: “Why would we focus on the downsides? Winter is a threat!”
‘Winter’ has been suggested to provide a slower, energy restricted, restful stimulus to humans, in this paper by Cronise and colleagues.
On the other hand, this reply from Dr Tommy Wood suggests that ‘Summer’ is equally important.
In the warmth of the cabin, I sat and thought:
What are the benefits of winter that we are missing out on?
Are we neglecting a season where rest, sustenance and recovery becomes priority?
Are we being forced to dial back the intensity of our modern-man activities?
Is this downtime merely a hindrance, or is it a necessity?
Would we need our ‘detoxes’ and crash diets if we still had winter?
If we learn from ‘winter’, can we use these learning points to optimise our ‘summer’?
I am happy and grateful that we no longer have to endure winter, however, perhaps we should choose to get a dose of it to pay homage to our inner human – it might even be good for us.