Friday 11 December 2020

Nature Notes: early December 2020

 by  Alison Bomford

mulled wine

That time of year thou may’st in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

    How vividly Shakespeare’s words describe late Autumn (as well as later life), as the last few leaves, still clinging to the bare branches, reluctantly relinquish their hold and flutter gently to the ground.

     Today, a thick grey mist is swirling around the chimney pots, and clinging in tiny droplets to the spiders’ webs, making them shimmer on the hedges.

     Moisture drips from dark tree branches, and turns crisp, dry leaves wet, slimy and slippery. Rainfall and footfall have churned the paths to mud, and the tractor ruts in the fields are full of water. There’s a loud splash as my Labrador Honey jumps joyously in, and the water jumps out!

     The sun – hard to believe it is still merrily shining up there – is hidden behind an overcast sky, and appears as a livid white ball, casting a strange, muted light which dulls all colours. Sounds, too, are muted by the fog, as if Nature were holding her breath. Only a few subdued chirps break the eerie silence.

     The trees are skeletons, silent sentinels, dormant for the duration of Winter. Squirrels, only yesterday scurrying around with acorns in their mouths, are nowhere to be seen. But how beautiful is the delicate tracery of twigs and branches, hidden all Summer long by foliage, and now revealed in full glory. Each and every twig has positioned itself to receive maximum sunlight so its leaves could produce chlorophyll; thus this exquisite design is by no means random, but carefully fashioned, which only seems to add to its wonder: one of the greatest gifts in a Winter landscape.

     Each tree has its growth pattern: oaks, slow, sturdy and knotted; ash, slender, drooping and graceful; blackthorn, spiky and twiggy; horse chestnut tall, and smooth skinned, its branches sweeping towards the ground; multi-stemmed bushy elder; broad girthed sycamore; and gleaming evergreen prickly holly thickets. Hawthorn hedges are still festooned with briars sporting rose hips, and the bright berries on the holly are yet to be devoured.

     Sloes cling thickly to the tall blackthorn thickets, tempting me to pick still more to add to my pot of sloe gin, macerating gently on the kitchen worktop, or to be cooked down with apples for a tangy Sloe & Apple jelly, ready to be served with a fine Christmas ham.

     Meanwhile, Honey is gobbling up as many of the harsh, bitter sloes as she can reach, since the supply of blackberries has dried up, and the fallen crab apples have rotted. It’s as well that Labradors have a cast-iron digestion….

     There’s a chill in the air as mist swirls around us, clinging to the hollows and billowing around the fields. Time to go home to some comforting warmth and a bowl of soup.

     As we walk home through the spinney, my mind turns unbidden to fir trees, green with a tang of resin, their needle covered branches decked with tinsel, bending with the weight of trinkets, and crowned with the Christian star or the pagan Fairy. Here is Nature’s promise that the green leaves of Spring will return one day, the true Christmas gift.

About the author 

Retired teacher, latterly working with emotionally disturbed teens; degrees from Edinburgh and Warwick Universities; nature lover and rambler, dog lover, keeps chickens, loves trees.
Used to write but raising kids and general survival got in the way: now starting again.

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