Well, the wheel of the year has turned once more, the twelve nights of merry Yule have come and gone, some folks have sobered up (some haven’t!) and for the rest of us, we just carry on as before. Most people are back into work mode; shoulders to the wheel and ‘backs into it lads’. Folks are looking out of grimy winter windows and wishing for the sun. Some are ‘booking up’ and have set their sights and hearts on a distant horizon where the solar ball never seems to set. Slumped shoulder and glum expressions abound before the momentum of life can push us through the first couple of weeks of the year. But look around, look closely, for the world is stirring, buds are forming and plant-life is emerging through both cracked and sodden soil.
Before Christmas, in the gardens the cascading willow trees were producing buds which are now well split into furry catkins. In sheltered spots in the villages the daffodils have not only burst through the earth but their glowing golden trumpets are already reaching skyward. Slightly behind, but nonetheless visible, the sharpened stems of the snowdrop bunches are striving upward. Flitting out of the hedgerows, like tiny winged mice, the Wren flash though the plant-life hoping not to be seen.
The Druids considered the diminutive bird as the King of all birds. The little Jennie Wren was said to be a symbol of wisdom and divinity. The apprentice Druid would, at this time of year, hope to find the Wren for it was a sign that he would be blessed with insight for the coming year.
Cascading and tumbling through the sky, flashes of gold, white, black and red set the greying clouds alight, like leftover tinsel and glitter from the celebrations. These are the flocks of Goldfinch that abound at this time in the struggle for food in the diminished daylight hours. From across the northern seas the Fieldfares and Redwings pay us a visit from the lands of the Vikings. Heading away from the freezing conditions in the harsher north these birds adorn our fields and hedgerows until they get the ‘call’ to return home. The Fieldfares have moved in from the pastures and have been stripping the berries off the Rowan trees; forcing the local birds to locate a different food source, which they inevitably do. This year, for now, there does seem enough food to go around due to the milder weather.
Aside from the birds and flowers, other creatures are on the prowl. Last year-born foxes are slinking in the streets, skirting around bins and fence bottoms trying to snaffle a bite to eat in the darkness. At dusk, sometimes even in daylight, bats have been spotted over the holidays, having left their winter roosts as the days are so warm. It means they can hunt at the moment and not totally rely on the fat reserves they have built up in the Autumn. The diminutive Muntjac deer creep out of the edge of the beech woods where they curl and ‘lie-up’ in the leaf-litter. Nibbling at tender leaves that are gently sprouting.
The brooks and streams are beginning to fill but are nowhere near as full as we would expect at this time of year and the big pool nearby is still nearly a foot lower, you can tell by the colour of the reeds. This lack of water makes the earth easier for those who wish to venture on foot into the countryside. The mud is still sticky but not slick so folks don’t look like failed ice-dancers as they careen down the local footpaths.
No matter what time of year, there is always something to see, hear and smell (even taste) outside in and on the land. Don’t let the shorter days and darker nights keep you inside. Stepping out into a strong, bracing wind that shakes the final gold and brown from the autumn trees is so invigorating and good for the soul. Blow away the cobwebs that have been collected before the year turned and start afresh, motivated and feeling the joy of life. Even on a day when the slate grey clouds hang low the sun is shining above them, just because you do not see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Embrace the weather and the new life that is knocking at the door patiently waiting to be let in. Feel the ‘bite’ of a sharp frost; the shudder when the cold rain finds a way down the th back of your neck. It brings a reality check and an appreciation of the world around us. You do not have to look at far horizons to find beauty on your own doorstep. Cross your threshold and discover what your own nature feels like.
By Mark Elson for Pipistrelle Art