Here we are, a whole week into a fairly rainy November about to get hit by the winter. Those long treks to the Bill Bryson are taking longer, and I feel like we only really got a few days of full autumn. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s dark, but those energy bills are just too high for a lot of people to bring themselves back up. And as much fun as the snow is, and as happy as so many people are to get into the festive season, winter brings a heavy exhaustion that is hard to articulate.
Back in 2014, this little ten-episode animated series called Over The Garden Wall released on Cartoon Network. The whole thing was less than 120 minutes (ideal for tiny attention spans of all ages), and was the perfect little show to watch during dreary November days when it was too wet and dark to go out.
The story begins with two brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Greg (Collin Dean), walking in dense foggy woods. Wirt is beginning to realise that they’re lost, while Greg is trying to decide “the very worst name” for his large pet frog. They’re dressed in bizarre non-period-specific clothes: Wirt is wearing a pointy red hat and a cape, while Greg has green overalls and a teapot on his head. The vibe in the first two minutes of the show is… very unclear: the light and playful dialogue combined with the spooky woods and vaguely occultist elements makes for an uneasy atmosphere (and that atmosphere stays with the show throughout!)
Over ten episodes, we watch them travel through the woods – ‘the Unknown’ – trying to get home, and being met with bizarre characters like talking birds, demented pumpkins, never certain whether they’re being helped or hunted. In the very first episode, a Huntsmen tells them about a ‘Beast’ stalking them through the woods, preying after lost souls. We also watch as their surroundings meld from bright, dense autumnal forest into one entirely covered in snow, slowly showing us how long they have been lost and how exhausted they’re becoming. For the first eight episodes, very little makes sense to the audience.
This article could go a lot of different ways: celebrating the versatility of animation; looking at how engaging, complex shows can be made for all ages; even delving into the fact that Over The Garden Wall is generally accepted to be a retelling of Dante’s Inferno. Instead, I want to talk about comfort and the cold as we move from autumn into winter.
Like I said, it is cold, and pumpkin spice lattes will be out of season soon. For students, the work ramps up while it gets colder, and formative season will have a lot of us inside the ‘Billy B’ until the late, dark hours of 4pm. You get through your work and then you head home tired and wet, before maybe heading out to get tired and wet again at Jimmy Allen’s. We keep going, feeling happy or stressed or a bit of both, and for a lot of people the energy just starts to drain away as it gets colder and darker before we even realise. Does it ever feel like wandering through the woods, forgetting when you started walking?
For those students with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which means lack of light and warmth due to seasonal changes massively impacts mood and energy, this is probably a well-understood experience. But I feel like everyone gets this, more or less. We just don’t always notice.
So, rewatching Over The Garden Wall for the first time in years, I definitely noticed how the seasons slowly shifted over the episodes, from the lively and bright orange harvest festival in episode two to torrential rains outside a village tavern in episode four. As they do, the characters keep walking, never realising they’re becoming more lost and tired. They’re so focused on their task – getting home – they can’t take notice of how much the journey through the cold is draining them.
Take it slow and easy as we move into winter. Take longer breaks, give yourself more time to get around, take advantage of those free tea stations around the University. And maybe check out Over The Garden Wall, because the whole show is available for free on the American public digital library, Internet Archive.
Illustration by Jacob Dax Harris