Signs of Spring

After weeks of grey skies, or so it seems, we have finally had a few bright days, when the sun has warmed the cold earth, and encouraged some early flowers to open at last. I was beginning to wonder where the snowdrops were, when a couple of days ago I realised that they were hidden under drifts of autumns leaves. Now I have brushed some of the old leaves away from the borders, clumps of snowdrops have opened to the sun, along with a sprinkling of yellow crocuses and a pink blushed hellebore. And this afternoon I was surprised and heartened to see a solitary miniature iris, its vibrant blue petals flung wide like arms to greet the sun.

Spring is on its way.

 

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Ifield Millpond in Winter

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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!

 

Looking up

We usually see the world from our own eye level. Children see a swathe of knees and trousers – a limited view, their eye-line often blocked. As an adult I see from a slightly more elevated level, and see faces and expressions. Go higher and our view extends even further, but the higher we get the more we tend to look down. I remember a couple of years ago looking down from the top of Old Dungeness Lighthouse in Kent, and last summer staring out across the Lincolnshire countryside from Sibsey Trader Windmill. Even with our feet firmly on the ground, we are always looking down – avoiding muddy puddles, wary of the broken paving stone that might trip us up. Consequently, unless we’re star-gazing, we rarely notice what is actually straight above us. When we do look up, what a different world we then can see; from clouds to skyscrapers, from the natural to the constructed. New perspectives, fresh patterns, surprising shapes and shadows. A new view of the familiar, and an unexpected view of the ordinary that makes it extraordinary. So take a moment to look up, and be surprised!

 

Autumn Colours

Aren’t the autumn colours beautiful? The skies might be overcast and grey; but the brightness of the leaves make up for it! The leaves of the cornus or dog wood were some of the first to change, fading to dusky pink, and hanging on red stems, while most trees around were still green. Then was the turn of the maple in all its different varieties. Now the furry sumac branches are aflame with red and orange, and all the lower leaves are gone. The hornbeam leaves turned bright yellow, but most have already fallen, and next doors old Oak, who always holds on the longest, is at last sprinkling its crisp yellow-brown leaves thickly across the grass.

 

A robin sang

A robin sang to me this morning. I had just finished sweeping the leaves, when I noticed something rustling in one of my patio pots. I crept closer, and there was a robin. Startled, he flitted away into the lower branch of a nearby sumac tree, whereupon he turned, and regarded me with a dark beady eye. I stood motionless. He was a smallish robin, probably one of this years brood, with a soft orange chest and sleek brown, neatly groomed feathers. He eyed me up and down, and after a moment darted back to the pot and scooped up a pale curly centipede that had evidently just been unearthed. With the centipede wriggling in his beak the robin darted back to his perch in the sumac tree, and swallowed his lunch. Then his sharp little beak opened and the feathers round his neck quivered, his throat swelled and he began to sing. It was a cheerful little song, lifting and falling in chirps and whistles, and it seemed as though he was singing directly to me. For a good five minutes he sat and sang, and every now and then I gave a little whistle back. I don’t know how long the robin would have continued his rich melodic song, but when my dog decided to amble around the garden, he flew off through the wire fence into the laurel bushes beyond. Such a simple experience, but it left me feeling uplifted, peaceful and somehow cleansed from the frenetic hurly-burly of life.

Of squirrels and acorns

As summer turns to autumn, the squirrels are becoming very active in my garden. More often than not, they have acorns in their mouths, ready to ‘plant’ them into my pots and tubs, or anywhere the rain dampened soil has become soft enough. I realise the squirrels are only following instinctive patterns to hoard food for the barren winter months, but in hiding their cache of acorns, they usually manage to dig up and destroy my carefully planted flowers. Even if they don’t disturb the plants, the squirrels inevitably forget where they’ve planted the acorns, and next spring little oak trees will shoot up in my tubs and in my flower beds. As soon as I notice them I have to pull them out before they begin to take over.
After sending the dog out to chase yet another acorn-wielding squirrel off the patio, I got to thinking. And I wondered how often other people dig into our lives, and leave behind them seeds such as anger and resentment or discontent, that begin to grow and take over our thoughts and attitudes without us actually realising they are there. I kept thinking, and I began to wonder what seeds I plant into other people’s lives. Do I plant negative, hurtful things, or do I plant encouraging and affirming things, such as love and acceptance. I know which I would rather have planted and nurtured in my life, and I know I would also prefer to plant good things in the lives of others.