restricted access February
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{ 11 } 7.  PATHS AND PRINTS IN SNOW In the beginning, static air from cold Arctic collided with a wet west front. Snowflakes fell heavily. Late evening, wind blew and sky cleared. By morning, cloud had returned, eight inches of snow and a great silence lying on the land. Such peace is a fragile thing. On with coat and hat, tighten boots, lock back door, and away to walk the muffled hills. The snow was signed. Deer slots delicately picked across the lawn. Then rabbit, scuffling along; brown hare, hind feet together, moving at pace, two meters from one print to the next. A trail of lawless fox paws. At the Pest House, where long ago bubonic villagers were abandoned, a deer had walked through barbed wire. There were angels, blackbird-flapped wing displays. At Bugg’s timber yard, guinea fowl shivered on old oak, Fred out with snow plow, doing the back roads. In the distance, the truck beeped as it reversed, moved on, pushed more snow. All else was quiet, the still air locked inside the valley. The light was subtle, the hues narrow. It was not at all the acute intensity of the high Himalayas nor that light of the most luminous of dreams. In both, mountains sail on cobalt skies; this day the cold cloud enclosed all in a chilled blanket. Near the hilltop came a clamor of corvids: rooks chattered, jackdaws jabbered. It was a great gathering, the valley flocks attached to bare oak over sandy-brown maize. There were one thousand birds, maybe two, of jet black and gray, all in social song and symphony. It was the first snow of winter, much to tell the youngsters. They rose and tumbled, resettled to trees, to paths, to wide fields. Years ago, there was a summer rook parliament in the garden, a flock in a tree facing inward, a pair of glum birds at the center upon whom rook chatter was focused. At that time, an incomer up the valley took his gun to the noisy rookery long established in his trees. Only one should have gone, but he stayed and the birds did not. A path dipped down a lane worn beneath fields by determined drovers and pilgrims bringing gossip. All the while birds narrated an aerial view of a cold hard FEBRUARY { 12 }     The East Country land, its dark trees and distant blue remembered hills. In a haze of falling flakes were tracks of quad bike, the shepherd out early to check his sheep. A badger sett dug in acid soil, The sober snow untouched: They dreamed on. A green woodpecker arched across the meadow, Laughing. Between the wrenched land and whiten cloud, A hawk fast flew to a frozen branch. In the village, small children were hauling sledges, bouncing with excitement, calling to parents; others shoveled drives, tight-lipped. A track center street had been churned clear by tires; vehicles were deep in drifts. At home, the woodstove soon filled the house with sweet resin. There is an element of staying put and venturing forth to place-making, whatever the weather. In the garden small birds were balls of feather, possibly thirsty. The birdbaths were solid ice. The bowl of one crumbled and shattered when warmed, the composite material gone to pieces. A corner held some water, then froze. This spring and summer, the base was abandoned amongst the pots and roses, doing little. “One heavy fall of snow,” wrote John Stewart Collins in The Wood, “and modern civilisation is silenced.” Next morning, twice the car was ice-stranded: tracks frozen until the thaw. Even with the fewest days, February can be the longest month. The depths derailed this wintertime. Wearing flip-flops, walk in snow, carrying out the recycling. How cold it was. Both field and mountain All taken by the snow Till nothing remains. Naitō Jōshō, 1661–1704 5 8. CLOSING TIME Sunshine streamed through curtains, light frost on flat roof. In the valley, there was a relentless wall of cold northwesterly wind. Winter grasses bent and bobbed. All puddles were frozen, cubes of ice torn out by tires. Banks of snowdrop were the only flowers to have survived the Arctic air. Woods were dark and brooding on the horizon, yet great tits were insistent. Two chestnut cart horses lumbered { 13 }     February across a field in search of company. Farmyards were quiet, barn doors locked. On the northern clay, hedgerows had been flailed, branchlets stripped from branches, the bark of...


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