Friday, 8 January 2010


Fresh snow transforms the landscape, bringing with it a shift in my mood and I am quick to leave the house to walk favourite haunts under these new but temporary conditions. My first stop is the forest. Just as dawn breaks I christen its immaculate carpet of crisp white with the crunch of my footfalls. The dogs love the snow; it is an edible carpet that tickles their ever-inquisitive noses and they seem more playful than ever. The lines of dark conifers become part of an optical illusion. Last night’s snowfall has coated their trunks with thin vertical brushstrokes of white, covering a narrow part of the darker trunks. In the half-light of dawn these lines of white become the trunks themselves, shrinking these great trees into mere spindles, now top heavy with snow.

The snow reveals the passing of other creatures; deer, rabbits and even a fox have crossed my path overnight, animals whose presence would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Still, mine are the first human first steps on these trackways and for now this landscape is mine.

Two hours later, and with the dogs now drying off at home in the kitchen, I am out again, down to the lakes to see if the cold weather has brought more duck in from further east. Now that the day is properly awake, the brightness of the seamlessly blue sky and white landscape combine to produce a light that is more intense than that of mid-summer but less saturated with colour. Dark branches of the riverside alders stand silhouetted against the sky, each branch supporting a line of fresh snow. So still is the day that even the rambling, wire-like, stems of the hops which grow wild here carry their own carpet of snow. One piece of stem, which loops about itself, supports nearly two inches of snow, a wafer-thin column that defies gravity.

Small flurries of snow fall from the tree-tops as a small party of siskins works its way ahead of me, feeding on the alder cones to the accompaniment of shrill but chatty calls. Larger showers of snow are dislodged by cumbersome woodpigeons that explode from their roosts, alarmed by sudden my arrival, and these drift down like a fine mist to settle cold on my face. Soon I am away from the river and out of the wood, skirting the lakes. I am no longer alone; two fishermen pace up and down near their rods to keep warm. Have they been here all night? I move further down the reserve, heading towards the quieter lakes where the wild duck rest undisturbed. The stillness remains, punctuated only by duck calls and the crunch of my footfalls on fresh snow.

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