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 the sky is an unrelenting grey, sombre and lifeless, sapping my very being. The trees are mere skeletons, each tiny twig hard and stark against the cold sky. Yesterday I felt full of energy and life, but it seems to have evaporated over night, leaving me low and dispirited.
Then up high there is a movement, and I see a single solitary seagull wheeling across the bleak expanse of cloud. Suddenly a squirrel catches my eye as it scampers along the top of the fence, and a small flock of starlings fly overhead. A couple of pigeons alight on the pergola, rather early in the year for their amorous courtship. I can hear a bird singing, a blackbird or robin, the sound reaches me even though my window is closed against the chill air. I see green ivy twisting and turning around the lower branches of the old oak tree. The world outside is not dead at all. I begin to come to life myself, and despite the grey skies my spirit lifts a little. To my mind’s eye, the steely grey sky becomes slightly softer, the twigs become more feathery and less harsh, and somehow full of future potential. When I look closely, even in the cold of winter there is life.
Today is the shortest day of the year for us in the Northern hemisphere. It is the winter solstice. The sun is low in the sky, and it is the first official day of winter. It is a day stuck between dark and light, on the knife-edge between the seasons. This month, this week, every afternoon has been cut short by an ever earlier dusk, sometimes with a flurry of sunset red and gold, but fading quickly into black night. Today maybe the shortest day, but the hope of longer days dawns tomorrow, albeit very slight at first. The see-saw has fallen, light has won again; for a time.
But still we hold our breath and wait, for an everlasting light. A few more days of twinkling Christmas lights will lessen the gloom, for soon we will welcome the Light of the World, who seeks to take away the darkness within us, forever.
This morning is very different from yesterday, yet it seems somehow the same. The weather is a little warmer, and the sky is no longer clear blue, but soft grey. There is no sparkling rime of frost, no crackle of ice underfoot; instead there is a chill dampness in the atmosphere, and the bushes and plants are bedewed with water droplets.
Like yesterday, the air is still. Smoke from the chimney drifts and drops, then lazily oozes down the sloping roof. It is quiet, and even the birds are silent. It is as if the world is waiting, holding it’s breath. As if something is about to happen.