Each day, tentatively and in small increments, there is a little more light. And signs, too, of the season to come before we expect them: snowdrops and bluebell shoots, blackbird notes, the first drumming woodpecker and the gold lamb’s tails of lengthening hazel catkins; sherberty yellow daubs against the cold, wet, teabag-browns of the wood, their citrusy yellow powder, bright as a yellowhammer’s head.
The cold weather pulls the birds into the garden, ready for the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, possibly. A mistle thrush sings strongly at the top of the oak, leaning into a north-easterly and carolling into the darkest part of the year, when we have swung furthest from the sun, to call it back. Below him and his singing, I’ve hung the mistletoe bough from the house in the apple tree, where I have also left some lights, until the batteries run out. Green-gold sprays of mistletoe I planted 12, 10, or 5 years ago are sprigging from the apple bark.
I walk for hours from home without seeing a soul. Wreathy mists come in and out like the ghost of a sea this once was, making strange islands of distant Pewsey Vale, White Horse and Liddington Hill. The mist unfurls like breath, like a shifting, magic carpet rolled out, like a silk scarf trailed along the valley floor.
There are fresh rumours of otters in the lake of the big house. It seems at first outrageous. Yet here is the river source, nothing more than an ooze, widening into a ditch, widening into a stream – enough, for these tricksy, ethereal animals; silk scarves in animal form, nosing upstream like the mist.
In the evening, there is the glass clink and clitter of skim-ice broken in the trough; and the curlicue purl of breath from a dunnock singing on the boundary hedge. It reminds me of the white mist of the morning.
Gone sunset, and I shake out more straw in the barn for a cold night; a stored summer of thick gold ribbons for warmth and colour. My son gets home in breathless, infectious awe, from riding his mountain bike alongside a hunting barn owl. Twice, there and back.
The back door opens and the light spills out.