Winter Pass

Over the land freckled with snow, half thawed / The speculating rooks at their nests cawed / And saw from elm tops, delicate as flower of grass, / What we below could not see, winter pass. [Edward Thomas]

The snow lingered a week and more, alternating days of bitter easterlies with those of utter calm, broken only by occasional traffic on our winding rural C road. Driving to the village for supplies is characterised by cautious evasion of potholes that a deadly combination of harsh weather and log lorries has caused to emerge on stretches of road not resurfaced 18 months ago. I register a complaint to the county highways authority and trust others will too so we might see some remedial action. (Don’t have much hope that that’ll be any time soon).

Bump into a friend in the street whilst down there who tells me her bronchial problems have been made worse since the lockdowns began. That’s due, she holds, to a big increase in the burning of logs and coal, day and night. The village, snug in the sheltering dale, holds by-products of home heating only too effectively. Another friend, a nurse, says that pulmonary complaints, along with rheumatoid ones, feature strongly in many residents’ health profiles.

Being under virtual house arrest in an environment like ours is not ideal but it is bearable. Revived childhood excitement when I dug out the red sledge from the garage and took it to the end of our field. On that steepest of slopes I managed to hang on and avoid the worst bumps caused by stones and rushes. Huge fun, much laughter generated, plus good exercise in clambering back up top for another go.

Our daily circular strolls from home over the whiteness provided extra interest in following tracks and intersections of various wild animals. Foxes, hares or rabbits, possibly a stoat or weasel all identified. And not just their varied paw prints but arrangements of limbs and tails, pressing or brushing the snow. In the garden too we could see where the rodents trailed from house to rockery.

Walking further afield, atop our nearest fell, drew intakes of breath when we came across the effect of alternating freezes and further snowfall in preserving ghostly marks of passage along the well trod bridleway. We drink in the vista over miles and miles of moors, fells, fields and converging dales; grand on any clear day but even more so now without a soul to be seen anywhere.

In the wake of freezing rain came a sudden increase in temperature and the landscape was once again transformed, with most of the snow and ice melting rapidly away. Indoors, the odd flutter of small tortoiseshells awakening from hibernation, brought on by extra heating when the weather was at its worst.

Outside, helibores, snowdrops and daffodils greet lengthening days. I resume spreading woodchip in the woodlands and Kim starts clearing around borders. We both get our NHS letters today, offering the Covid-19 vaccine. So yes, the year is turning and Spring has come.

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