There’ll be no white christmas on the patch this year. After cutting its teeth on a few hard frosty mornings in early in December, winter has already grown up and settled into its monochrome monotony typical of southern England. In fact, there have been moments this week, when stepping out into the drizzle or hearing the Great Tit see-sawing away in the hedge, that is has felt more like a dank day in dreary early Feburary than just 4 sleeps before Christmas Eve. Festive reminders can be found in the artificial settings of our homes, but in the countryside even the holly has been striped of its bright berries by hordes of hungry blackbirds, and the gloss of its leaves is muted by the fog.
It was barely light when I left home this morning, and even when the day did dawn, the change was only perceptible as a lightening and fading, rather than any real brightness. I counted the hours of daylight carefully, willing the light to draw some strength from somewhere. Ancestral memory prompted my subconscious to mark the coming of the night for it would be a long one, the longest yet. Despite my vigil, when darkness descended it somehow caught me unaware. And when the night fully blossomed it was all encompassing and complete – not even the stars dared to glimmer.
Two days ago, my mood was very different. I paused my step a moment and listened; a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming out its signature beat. I sent a text message and my phone vibrated as a reply arrived; another woodpecker was drumming also, in a tree outside my Mum’s window at the opposite end of town. Yesterday morning, same place, same time, the woodpecker’s still drumming. A Song Thrush is chiming too, belting out its fragmented melody through lulls in the rush hour traffic. I think about these birds now, and wonder if perhaps from their high vantage points they could possibly see beyond my own horizon, through the solstice grey and beyond the turning of the year to the lengthening days and approach of spring.