The scale of shrews

Late-March. It’s cold, and I’m craving spring. Spring colours too; sunshine yellow, baby pink and pastel blue. If Imbolc at the start of last month was the ‘first showing’, the difference to day length and the rise of the sun is now undeniable. This is the point where the year, after slumbering through the dark season, starts bubbling with momentum. Frosts are still common (although here near the Sussex coast we are a few weeks ahead of northern counties), but the rising tide is for growth and new life.

There are days when the sun shines with such uplifting intensity, and the cacophony of bird song and burgeoning shoots demands so much excitement, that I feel slightly breathless. Everywhere you look there is the promise that soon, maybe tomorrow, maybe next month, spring will finally arrive in all its glory. I find it helps to focus on individual things, small details.

Watch the pair of blue tits investigating last year’s nest site under the roof tiles. Absorb the hum of the queen bumblebees in the crocus blooms in the pot on the front garden.

If I tune into the volume of pulsing life that is everywhere in the hedgerows and garden and the interconnected mycelium in the damp soil, it makes my head spin.

All month I have been monitoring the border under the pyracantha, outside the back door, intently. Back in January I planted ‘Cottage Cream’ primula amongst the ferns, parsley, and euphorbia. Between them, in the moist soil beneath the mulch of bark chips and leaf litter, I tucked hyacinths in pale yellow and pretty pink. As I dug I worked carefully around the shoots of daffodil and bluebell spearing through the grainy earth. Then, I had to wait; each day measuring by eye the height of new green, watching for sign of flower bud, impatient and anticipatory. At last; reward.

It is the front garden that gets all the sun at this time of year – the place to sit if you want to warm up, basking in the reflected rays from the flint wall. But for quiet contemplation, to slow the spin of the world for a moment, it is here at the back door I choose to pause. To appreciate the small texture of moss, the way it upholsters forests for the trundling woodlice. To marvel at the tongue fern growing in the bricks, and the self-seeded herb robert under the step, that most people would’ve weeded out by now but I rather like. Sometimes if I’m quiet, I’ll see the shrews, or the bank vole that lives under the log store; scale my problems to the proportions of theirs. Before letting the urgent scolding of the great tit that wants to visit the bird bath behind the euphorbia, set the world back in motion.

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