The Vernal Equinox, that day which holds hope for a turn in the season, came and went like a drift of snow. We may have recently experienced the astronomical beginning of spring, heralding the start of longer days, new blooms and warmer weather, but much of Britain is still shivering.
As I write, the fire is ablaze in the wood burner, and my feet feel like ice cubes. Just outside the window, a pair of jackdaws are busy collecting fallen twigs to build their nests among the rafters in the barn. They seem to be getting on with things despite the wind and now hail, but this is still not the weather to be starting a brood. I am thinking twice about suiting up in fleeces and waterproofs to take Millie for an afternoon romp across the moors. I feel as if I’m in a state of limbo waiting for an extended period of sunshine.
Long celebrated as a time of rebirth in the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox is associated with spring time festivals and holidays. It holds the promise of fresh starts, spring cleaning, flowers, long days and sunshine.
But there’s no sign of settled weather ahead and my twitchy green fingers want to get things done in the garden. Our potatoes are busy chitting on the window sill, and in about a month’s time our plug plants will arrive for planting out into the vegetable garden. My February hopes of pruning the various rose bushes, hedges, blue berries, and other shrubs is delayed by weeks. I did managed to lightly clean the greenhouse during a downpour, but it isn’t ready for planting. With the cold and grey, even the strawberries are delaying the start of their spring growth.
It’s frustrating to not be able to make a start, but the soil is still cold and sodden. When the last of the snow retreated into dark hedges sheltered from the sun, the land may have thawed but it was once again saturated with the deluge of heavy rains. We must be patient. Experience tells me to wait to put in the carrot and radish seeds. Still, I would like to get out and prepare the soil, prune, and tidy.
Instead, I watch as the channel I dug to protect the track from runoff has been destroyed in places by the cattle. The potholes are growing, despite a mini break in the weather several weeks ago when we filled dozens. The moles, rats, and rabbits have left us with some ankle turning land. Repairs to some of the outbuildings remains on hold as it is too wet to make the needed interventions.
At this time of the year, it is hard to focus on anything other than the cold and wet. But, there is a beauty in this seemingly dead of winter. The grass is not simply green, but accented with colours of gold, brown and red. Layers of cloud upon cloud cover the sky in multiple tones of grey. Gone for the winter are the summer migratory birds and it has been months since the Swallows and House Martins have been here dive-bombing about the house feasting on insects. I know their return soon will announce the arrival of spring, so too the Cuckoo.
The wildlife is different during this time of the year as much of it is in hibernation or just lying low until spring. Much, but not all. The earthworms are being tugged out of the ground by our chickens as they seek foraged delights. The Sparrows, Tits, Robins, Finches, Nuthatches and Jackdaws are taking it in turns to sustain themselves on the seeds we put out daily. And none of this winter rain, wind, or mud has stopped the walkers. Why should it? If we waited for fine weather, then we would never go outside. These intrepid souls have been out in huge numbers loaded with their binoculars, cameras, maps and walking sticks.
At the end of last year, Roger planted 150 hedge plants as we are trying to create a border which is friendlier to wildlife than simply stock proof fencing. A mixture of viburnum, maple, blackthorn, hawthorn, and alder to join the 120 we planted the year before. Our diverse hedging should – in several years to come – provide a thick, messy growth of native species for birds to nest and hide. Ideally, it will also provide a good natural hedge to keep unwelcome critters out, namely the sheep! Thankfully, those bare root saplings seem to have escaped the harshness of this winter and the weight of the snow fall we experienced. A close examination shows early budding.
One sure sign of the impending turn of the season is the recent return of the sheep. We have had almost two months of them being away on their reproductive winter holiday. But these ewes are of a hardy stock and will not be cloistered for long, returning pregnant and wearing thick fleece for the remaining months of cold and wet. Soon they will give birth then we will be surrounded by cute little lambs, lots of noise and a new generation to dissuade from jumping onto our stonewalls.
As we changed the clocks, the light is lingering later into the evening, bringing with it the promise of warmer days and softer breezes. Our chickens are laying a daily bounty of eggs. The daffodils are standing tall with their trumpet flowers and I’ve made a note to plant several more bulbs in the autumn. Yesterday, I heard the lovely melodic song of a blackbird, letting me know that the mating season of this favourite bird is soon to commence. As I await the true change of the season – not just the day when the sun shines directly on the equator – and its call to action, I will soon spend more time outside rather than inside. Today isn’t that day. Perhaps this isn’t that month. But it’s coming.