Another day of dull light, heavy cloud, drizzle. We feel cheated of a proper winter, disorientated. The chain seems to have come off the wheels of the year: we are going nowhere, stuck in endless weeks of mild temperatures, wind and rain, with the odd day of snow or sunshine being the exception that proves the rule.
Out with the dog today, shrouded under hat and scarf, feeling rather left over after a rare late night out followed by an early morning (our son woke us up an hour early for school by mistake), I strode through the trees barely noticing my surroundings. As always, however, the woods began to work their magic on the senses. Scent first: wet earth, dead bracken’s sharpness, clean conifer smell. Then sounds: jackdaws squabbling in the treetops, a pair of mallards quacking over the lochan in flight, a chaffinch warming up his spring song. Listening to the chaffinch, I became aware of how the birdsong in the woods has been gradually increasing over the past few weeks. New notes are added to the repertoire every day: a sure sign that spring is coming.
On the path by the swollen burn I noticed the sharp imprint of a roe deer’s hoof in the mud, like two large almonds side by side. The deer had dug into the ground, moving fast. The prints I’d seen on my last walk were lighter, steady, a deer pottering along by itself. Today something had perhaps startled it as it made its way along the edge of the wood. Many animals and birds share this environment, and not all are friendly to each other. A sparrowhawk took a bluetit from our bird feeder last week.
The dog ran on ahead of me, searching for pheasants. Entering the beech wood, I noticed that some of the wild daffodils are close to flowering. The first of them usually bloom around St. David’s Day (1st March) or a little later, depending on the winter weather. It is such a boost to the spirits to see their sunny faces blazing under the bare trees. Meanwhile the snowdrops have spilled their whiteness down the banks like so much milk: a reminder that, in the old pagan calendar, February brings in the season of Imbolc, ‘ewe’s milk’, the beginning of the lambing season. So the wheels of the year are turning after all.
And raising my eyes to the woods across the river, I notice that the bare twigs of the mossy oak trees are thickening at the tips, and that the trees on this dull day, with their soft, subtle colours, are beautiful.