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.
This morning started out grey and windy, with heavy showers. Now the rain has gone, and we are left with candy-floss clouds and very blustery, autumnal winds. Floppy, brown horse-chestnut leaves are blowing from the trees, covering the pavements and paths with a slippery, soggy mess; and tiny helicopters are cascading from the hornbeam trees. Unlike ash and sycamore keys which have two wings, hornbeam keys have three wings, and although they don’t look at all aerodynamic, they certainly spin quickly as they fall. The hornbeam is a deciduous broadleaf tree commonly found in the oak woodlands of Southern England. Growing to about 30 metres, these trees can live in excess of 300 years. The name ‘hornbeam’ comes from ‘horn’ due to the hardness of the wood, and ‘beam’ meaning tree in Old English. Hornbeam timber is creamy white, extremely hard and strong, and is mainly used for furniture and flooring. Traditionally it was used for ox-yokes, butchers blocks and cogs for windmills and watermills. The fruit is a small nut about 3-6mm long, held in a leafy tri-lobed bract. The bract is asymmetrical, and it is this unbalanced nature that helps it spin as it falls.
A few days ago the squirrels were scurrying through the hornbeam trees in my garden, tearing at the keys as they searched out the tiny nuts. Cracking sounds as sharp teeth bit into the nut shells, and shredded leaves fluttering to the ground, betrayed their presence. But now the acorns are ripe, so the squirrels have abandoned my hornbeam, for larger treasure in the garden next door.
Just over a year ago; last June to be precise, I visited a friend in Littlehampton. It was a cold, damp and wind-swept day, and I posted a couple of ‘deserted beach’ pictures. This year, it couldn’t have been more different. The summer sun was shining brightly, the sky was blue, with high vaporous swirls of cloud, and the slight breeze was definitely a warm and gentle one. Despite being midweek, and most children not yet broken up for the school holidays, there were plenty of people spread out on the beach. We splashed our way through cold wavelets in the sandy shallows, while some braver folk were swimming in the icy water. The beach shops and stalls were open, selling everything from fish and chips and ice-cream, to beach shoes and buckets and spades. Gaudy summer dresses and sun hats were everywhere, and the ambient mood was light-hearted and carefree. What a difference a bit of sun, and a bit of welcome warmth make to an English summer beach.
I awoke the other morning to quiet grey skies. I looked outside. The colours of the newly opened leaves were muted, and there was a soft rain falling. There were no strident bird calls, drips fell gently into the undergrowth, and everything seemed subdued. It was as though the rain had smoothed away all the hard edges.
A little later on in the day, I looked out again. The clouds and the rain were the same, and it was still quiet, but this time the phrase that popped into my head was that a thin drizzle was falling. To me a thin drizzle is cold, and I felt my spirit sink, and my energy drain away.
I was struck by the difference in perspective between a ‘soft rain’ and a ‘thin drizzle’. It wasn’t the rain that had changed, but how I perceived it. And isn’t that the same sometimes in our lives? We all have difficulties and problems to deal with, but it’s not the problems themselves that affect us so much, but the way we look at them. So is there a thin drizzle falling in your life at the moment? Then change your perspective, look at it with new eyes, and see that it is actually a soft rain.
Have you seen the size of the crocuses this year? They are simply huge. Beautiful sunshine yellow, deep regal purple, pure snowy white, purple streaked with white; all closely clumped together in the grass and standing tall. Hidden in the soil, they’ve lived through dark dreary times this winter, with weeks of grey skies and exceptionally wet, stormy weather; but the crocuses seem to have responded by growing so much bigger and brighter than usual.
Sometimes I think we can be a bit like that. We all go through really hard dark times, but if we let them, these difficult life experiences can change us for the better. And then, when we come out into the sunlight at the other end, we will be bigger people.
Today has again been wet and windy, with wall to wall grey cloud. Cold needles of persistent rain pummel the huge stretches of surface water, each raindrop merging into a great expanse which no longer drains away into the over-soaked ground. The standing water seems to swell and seeth with malicious intent, drenching passers-by with each vehicle that passes. Layers of low cloud scud across the sky, trailing dark wind-blown tendrils, and releasing yet more rain. There was a brief respite an hour or so ago, when I ventured out for a quick walk with the dog. But as I returned home, so the rain started again. The cold damp greyness seems to have seeped into my bones and into my soul, and I feel as melancholy as the weather. Under this steel grey blanket it’s hard to believe, but somewhere up there the sun is still shining.