The snow is all gone, the temperature has risen, and all the signs are pointing to spring close on the horizon. So hopefully that’s the last of the snowy pictures till next winter. I leave you instead with pictures of my hellebores. I have three varieties of hellebore in my garden. The flowers of Candy Love are pale pink and white, with a blush of pink veining on the outside of the petals; Pirouette flowers are a dusky pink, with darker pink veining; while my favourite is I think, Black Diamond, with striking, almost black flowers and deep red foliage. Last week they were all laden with snow, bowed down to the icy earth, so low I thought they’d never recover (see my previous post). Now the snow is gone and their cold blanket has melted away, my hellebores are standing up again. Their stems have straightened, and their heads are held high. Black Diamond stands the tallest, but Candy Love and Pirouette on their shorter stems arch gracefully. And with the promise of spring just around the corner, my spirits too have lifted.
Yesterday it snowed some more, but once again not as much as was forecast. It was still very cold, -3C, and if it still wasn’t ‘deep and crisp and even’, the earth was certainly ‘hard as iron, and water like a stone’. I defrosted the bird bath every time I had a hot drink, and the birds were very grateful. Mr and Mrs Blackbird took it in turns, and kept coming back for more. A pair of magpies stopped by, and a small flock of four starlings bickered and chattered as they filled their beaks. Some great-tits, blue-tits and long-tailed-tailed-tits flicked around from bush to bush and tree to tree, along with a tiny wren, but they didn’t join the drink queue. Most of the birds sped off as soon as they saw me with my camera, but Mr and Mrs Blackbird posed beautifully. The birds were obviously finding enough to eat, as they were only interested in the water, and largely ignored the scraps I put out. The dog happily finished those bits off later!
It snowed last night, not deep or crisp or even, but definitely snow, sprinkled across the garden like icing sugar. Although it was bright and sunny this morning it snowed some more, soft fat flakes drifting and dropping aimlessly. This afternoon it grew colder, and the snow fell like tiny hard crystals whirling madly in a biting, easterly wind. Some of the longer spikes of grass are still standing tall, but most of the lawn and flowerbeds are covered with a thin lacy blanket of snow. A few small, half-open daffodil buds, have been stopped in their tracks, as winter has returned with a vengeance. Tiny pendulous snowdrops stand straight, while pink and white hellebore flower-heads are heavily laden, bowing down to almost touch the icy cold earth. I’ve defrosted the bird bath three times today, and have been rewarded with the sight of blackbirds and pigeons grabbing a quick drink, and I spotted a wren on the trellis, and a squirrel high up in the oak tree. Despite the bitter cold, there is still life in my garden. We may not have had the snow we were expecting, but there are a few days yet of snow and below zero temperatures forecast, so who knows…..
I stand at the window looking out into a cold and blustery winter afternoon. My mind is still. I wait, expectantly, but for what? I see the wind rifling through the dead leaves in the gutter, worrying at them, tossing them high into the air with abandon, as if by the hand of an exuberant child. The clouds zip by, their shape and colour constantly shifting. Now, as I see the light begin to fail, I wonder at how the days slip by so quickly; we are half way through January, and February is already on the horizon. As the forever changing seasons move inexorably on, I realise that spring is a mere heart-beat away. I marvel at how the sun comes up each morning, although at times it is obscured by cloud; and how the moon waxes and wanes, and the tides ebb and fall. I consider how rain waters the earth, and how the sun warms it and brings forth life. And I have questions about myself; how I can be here by sheer chance, and what is the purpose of my own existence? I weigh-up the possibilities. Is all this intricate detail some great cosmic mistake, a huge coincidence or confluence of separate events? But surely not! Surely there is a creative designer and all-powerful hand behind the astounding complexity I see around me, and in me.
Then, as I wait, I sense a voice in the deep recesses of my mind. “I am here my child. I created all the wonder you see around you, and I created you. I created your inmost being, and I knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are not a mistake, you are my beautiful child. There is a purpose in your existence. Wait and see what wonderful things I will accomplish through you.”
This morning is cold. A thick frost lies heavily on the grass. Long thin contrails criss-cross the expanse of watery blue sky, while streaks of clouds meander way up high, like tattered curtains.
Everything is still, there is no breeze to stir the last remaining leaves clinging to the old oak tree. Through the frosty air comes the sound of birds chattering excitedly. Do they know that Christmas is coming? Do they feel a tremor of hope in the air?
I walked round Ifield Millpond yesterday. It was a beautiful, cold, crisp, winter morning. The sky was clear and blue, and the sun hung low, so that blinding sunlight bounced off the frozen surface of the millpond, making photography difficult. The grass and undergrowth were rimed with frost, and ice scrunched underfoot. A heron who habitually sits at the waters’ edge, was perched on the branch of a tree. The water birds, usually seen swimming happily, were today skidding and skating precariously on the ice. Three Canada geese one behind the other slowly and carefully plodded towards a patch of open water near the bridge. The first two held their footing reasonable well, but the last one slipped drunkenly on every step – two steps forward and one slip-step backwards. Seagulls coming to land, ran a few slippery steps, wings flapping wildly to keep their balance before coming to a standstill. A solitary duck padded across the ice, webbed feet flapping, but the rest of the ducks seemed to be crowded into a narrow stretch of water between the bank and the boardwalk.
The funniest of all had to be the coots. They looked rather like misshapen, feathered rugby-balls, with ungainly legs and long flat toes that are usually hidden under the water. No doubt the toes with flabby flaps of skin that act rather like webbed feet are ideal for paddling through water, but they are not really designed for walking on ice! The faster the coots tried to go, the more they slipped and slithered. But however much difficulty the birds had staying upright on the ice, I didn’t see any actually fall over; and thankfully neither did I!
I’m back again; not that I’ve truly been away, but ‘life’ has happened, as it so often does, and I’ve been away from my blog for far too long. Now I’m back again, no doubt over the next few posts I’ll put into words some of the things that have happened over the last couple of months.
In the meantime, autumn has come and gone. Winter is here, and what a strange winter it has been so far. Over shadowing, depressing greyness, rain by the sky-full, very wet, very muddy, and unseasonably warm. Before Christmas I spotted an urban roundabout completely covered with confused daffodils that usually don’t flower until well into February; had anyone told them they were a full two months early? I’ve spotted snowdrops and hellebores – not quite so seasonally out of kilter. And I have a sprinkling of pale purple anemones splattered across the sunnier borders in my garden.
Last week we had hail, like ice marbles, clattering and bouncing on roofs and pathways, enough to almost bury the patio. Then we had a couple of mild frosts, that have taken us by surprise, and unaccustomed as we are to the cold this year, made us feel that we’d been dropped into the Arctic! Then finally this morning, we awoke to a world dusted with an inch or so of snow – the first snow of a very peculiar winter. It’s almost completely gone now, and who knows if there will be any more.
At this time of year I would usually be looking forward to spring, and eagerly watching out for signs of growth, but this year I really feel that we haven’t truly had any winter yet. So over the next few days I’m hoping for some cold, frosty mornings, with a crackle underfoot, a bite and a sparkle in the air, and with bright clear blue skies; then I can start looking forward to spring properly.