November days when the drizzle falls and the sky is on the ground bring a wish for blue skies and clear, sharpness. “I feel much better when it is clear and dry,” says my mother.
Perhaps it is about space as well. Since the lockdown resumed, the motorway has been quieter. Driving is not crammed between dozens of lorries and vans.
Perhaps there is a correlation between space and contentment. Perhaps wide open rural acres lend themselves to a more mellow view of life. Or, if not mellowness, an inclination to let things be, to turn away from arguments, forget conflicts.
Listening to the inimitable Neil Young singing Four Strong Winds, there is a sense of geographical openness contributing to a sanguine mood.
Think I’ll go out to Alberta, weather’s good there in the fall.
Got some friends that I could go to workin’ for.
Yet I wish you’d change your mind, if I asked you one more time
But we’ve been through this a hundred times or more.
Only when visiting Canada is there a sense of the sheer vastness of the place. The whole of France would fit into Alberta and there would still be 100,000 square kilometres to spare, France has a population of 63 million, that of Alberta is just 3.6 million.
The Four Strong Winds journey to Alberta is a journey into a province that has two major cities surrounded by a vast spaciousness; space to work, space to be oneself, space not to worry, to be unconcerned, unburdened, free. The lyric expresses regret that things have turned out as they are – and an acceptance that what is done is done, that the past is unchangeable and demands now a letting go, in an openness that will allow forgetfulness.
The greyness of the emotional autumn is contrasted with the sunshine of the provincial fall. An Irish friend who spent thirty years in the hugeness of Ontario once complained of the darkness of winters in Dublin. It seemed an odd complaint, our latitudes were not so different. “It is not the night,” she explained, “it is the day. In Ontario there would be days of brilliant sunshine reflected by brilliant white snow.”
Perhaps it is about more than spaciousness, perhaps it’s about direct engagement with the elemental world, a world unmediated by technology or human construction; there is a sense in nature of timelessness and the insignificance of the affairs of the human world. Every last person could be dead, and the trees would still stand, and the birds fly, and the autumn winds chill the air.
Perhaps it is also about journeying, about covering physical ground, about placing actual, real distance between oneself and whatever it may be that one is travelling away from.