As the old year has given way to the new, we are preparing for a cold front, which will freeze the ground solid and grip us with another reminder that winter hasn’t fully left. If it must be this cold, I’ll be pleased to get a dusting of snow or ice, providing us with the chance to see animal tracks left in the frozen mud. I usually enjoy winter, but confess I am feeling ready for spring. I understand and accept that I have another month or two before we are in the swing of it, but the past several months of endless rain and skies, which on most days look like dirty plastic hastily placed to cover a broken window, hiding any view or hint of blue sky, I have grown impatient for spring’s arrival.
Not to mention that we’ve had a few tremendous storms these past few weeks! It is a huge relief that the new roof has kept us dry. Did I just say the roof is done? Days before Christmas, the major bits of the roof were completed. We haven’t seen the end of our building friends, as there is guttering, a few side tiles, and the water pump shed to complete, but since it is dry and insulated, the roof is for all intensive purposes, complete. We still need to address the walls and some of the less than watertight windows, but there is progress on this old house. During the Boxing Day storm, the winds got up to about 60 miles an hour with rain pouring down in buckets, thunder roaring and flashes of lightning sending Sam to hide under the bed. As the weather pitched a fit, we felt snug and dry inside. The river at the bottom of the field raged in a most swollen state, looking angry and uncomfortable as if it had broken it’s own New Year’s resolution to not over indulge.
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 folks have been out in huge numbers loaded with their binoculars, cameras, maps and walking sticks. Of a more fearless variety have been the kayakers who have taken to the rivers with their maneuverable river kayaks, waterproof everything, and helmets. I am intrigued by their fearlessness as one of these rivers nearly took Sam and me under its currents one day when I misplaced a step, lost my balance and took on two bootfuls of river. Our devoted dog, close behind, also lost his footing and did all he could to swim against the strong current. We both made it to shore and it was there we agreed to give up the day’s walk, taking our soaking wet selves back home. The power of the river that sunny day was enough to give me great admiration for those who negotiate its rapids during a winter storm.
At this time of the year, it is hard to focus on anything other than the cold, wet, and limited daylight. But, there is a beauty in this seemingly dead of winter. I’ve noticed that the grass is not simply green, but is accented with colours of gold, brown and red. While the sky seems to be mostly grey, there are at least fifty shades of it during the course of the day depending upon whether the clouds are low-hanging mist rooms or floating up high playing hide and seek with the sun. 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 will announce the arrival of spring.
The wildlife is different during winter as much of it is in hibernation or just lying low until spring. Much, but not all. Those slugs are still in the garden as proved by my daily catch in the slug pubs. The earthworms are being tugged out of the ground by our chickens as they seek foraged delights to aid in the return of all of their feathers. And our bird feeders remain a scene of endless activity with the Sparrows, Tits, Robins, Finches, Nuthatches and Jackdaws taking it in turns to sustain themselves on the seeds we put out daily. As soon as the sun is up, the whole gang of birds show up to their “local”.
We also have the birds seeking summer from the arctic as they migrate to England for the winter. The very idea! I spotted a Hen Harrier about a week ago with its striking white and grey wings tipped with black as if dipped in an ink well. These jaunty birds of prey are just winter visitors to Dartmoor, and will soon move up to their breeding areas in northern Britain. And almost every morning walk sends into flight a flock of at least two-dozen Fieldfare from the gorse bushes and reeds. Add in the Redwing, and all these birds create a delightful and active winter scene.
The other day, I spied a large bird of prey sitting on a rock on the top of the hill. I couldn’t identify it as it was backlit by the sky, and Roger wasn’t there for the more nuanced details giving name to this proud creature. It was cooling its wings and watching over the valley. Perhaps it was a buzzard conserving its energy before setting to flight?
One sure sign of the impending turn of the season is that the sheep are back. 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. In March 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. Everywhere, “Baaaaaaah!!” “Baaaaaaaah!!!” “Baaaaaaaah!!!!!” will fill the air as the lambs and their mothers locate one another with their unique bleats. Contrary to romantic belief, these calls are not sweet little “bah, bah, bahs” but more like the East Coast nasal accent of actress Mercedes Ruehl in Married to The Mob: hard, angular and distinct.
Yes, I am convinced that the turn of the season is near. The light is lingering later into the day, our chickens are starting to lay eggs again, and the bulbs are poking up out of the ground, making me regret that I didn’t buy hundreds of snow drop and crocus bulbs to plant this past autumn. I will definitely be doing that this year as the very sight of them signals that spring is on its way. The moss and lichen are all showing new little flowers and budding, but it does take getting close and using my reading glasses to see it all. Just the other night, while putting the chickens away and covering the vegetable plots, I heard the lovely melodic song of a blackbird, letting me know that the mating season of this favourite bird is shortly to commence. Ah yes, spring is nearing, even if we still have weeks of winter ahead.