From the Archives: Winter Jewels

I have been doing some blog ‘housekeeping’ and looking over some past work. It is amazing to think that I have been blogging for nearly 9 years, as I started right back in March 2009! Of course my style and writing quality has changed over that time (I hope you would agree, for the better!), but there are certainly some articles worth revisiting. So I thought today I would share one from the archives – a winter walk on my local patch…

Winter Jewels (originally published Thursday, 3 December 2015)

Come on. Pull on your boots, let’s get out for a walk.

I often think it is amazing how something a simple as a walk can lift the mood, re-balance the body and revitalise the mind. Just escaping the restricting confines of walls and ceiling, breathing fresh cool air, and the rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other, can be a cure-all for many of life’s worries and strains.

It has been a little while since we followed Pitsham Lane across the farm. The mild damp weather we have been trudging through during the past few months has left the track claggy with mud; a good chance to ‘dirty up’ my new wellies (sensible ‘country green’ ones, for those days when my bright red wellingtons, although fun, may not be entirely suitable!). Despite the day starting off as another mild one, the wind has grown increasingly chilled and blustery this afternoon, blowing ahead of a band of rain forecast for later this evening. I wish I had worn my wooly hat.

The harsh twigs where we picked sloes earlier in the mellow autumn, are leafless now and a tangled mass of thorn. The remaining berries, ignored by the birds in the prolonged mild weather, are wrinkled and shrinking, decaying on the stem. The stems themselves are encrusted with lichen in shades of gold and silver.

Cattle have been in the fields for some weeks now, poaching and churning the mud around their feeders and troughs to a thick noisy gloop. Curious, they huff through their hairy, tongue-wet noses at us over the fence.

Pied wagtails take alarm, launching into the air with a characteristic “Chissick” call, looping across the field as though struggling to keep their long tails from weighing them down, ‘bottom-heavy’. In the corner oak, another bird seems to have no problem at all with being tail-heavy. The long tailed tit is one of an extensive flock, some two dozen or so individual birds strong, flitting throughout the oak’s branches and spilling out into the adjoining hedgerow. One by one they pile across the track, directly over our heads, none wanting to be the last left behind.

The light drops quickly at this time of year, especially when diffused through the clouds that seem to constantly cover the sky recently.

A flock of chaffinches, falls upwards – moving as one from mud to branches at our approach, nervous and flighty. Something interesting across the field turns out to be nothing more than a clump of browned and withered dock stems or similar plant, once focused on through the binoculars.

Turning for home, it is not long before we are back on the concrete road through the industrial estate; the streetlight at the entrance to the estate already glowing. A decade ago, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, post-christmas but not long after New Year, a new tree arrived in the industrial estate. I don’t know who planted it, but one day the grass bank was just an ordinary grass bank, the next day there was a tree, its triangular shape suggesting its origins may have involved tinsel, baubles and fairy-lights. We grew together that tree and I, as I passed it by each day too and fro, until it overtook me and now reaches somewhere between twice and three times my height. I am always tempted each December to remind the tree of its sparkly and colourful past, but today it had no need for such artificial adornment; nature had provided the decorations. Between the dark, needle-soft branches of the fir, a tiny bird flitted; round as a bauble, a flash of colour. A goldcrest, one of nature’s winter jewels.

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