I shall not be sad to see you go. It is now a month since the Winter solstice, so the sun is getting a little stronger and is visiting us for a little while longer each day. That's got to be good, whatever February throws at us. But there is still only a little warmth in the sun's rays.
Shine out pale sun;
push through the thin grey cloud
and let your weak light
fall on the sharp green blades
struggling in the hedgebank.
I have just been down to Masham to our Feed Merchants - one of my favourite little drives as it goes through such pretty countryside. Tess came with me and as I drove I looked out for any signs that Spring might be just around the corner. I saw few.
You have to be very close to the bushes and trees to see that they are beginning to be in bud. From a distance they are stark and bare. And the roadside verges, although almost clear of snow, are dirty and dead-looking - no vestige of green unless you get really close.
The rooks are very active. In the summer they pass overhead very early in the morning and fly updale to their feeding grounds. In the depths of winter they hang about round the fields, where ever there is a chance of food - particularly sheep food. But now they are becoming much more active. Most farmers are in the process of mid-winter cleaning out of cattle sheds, which means that manure is being spread on the fields - manure means worms and the rooks know it.On my drive today some of the fields were black over with rooks, sometimes they rose as I drove past, skimmed over the top of the hedge and flew in front of the car in their hundreds.At night, when they return to their roost a little way down the lane from us, already they are cleaning out the rubbish from their nests and falling out over housekeeping arrangements. That is the first sign!
One other sign - the Game Shooting season ends on January 31st and the pheasant will be safe for another year. At least they would be, except that the cock pheasants have already got their smart breeding plumage and they are all along the lane falling out with each other and vying for female attention. I passed three dead on the lane on my way back, their chestnut plumage sparkling in the weak sunshine. Oh foolish birds.
Paul Simons tells us today in the Times to watch out in the UK over the next few days for brilliant and unusual sunsets. These will be caused by nacreous clouds high in the stratosphere, so high that the sun shines on them long after it has sunk below the horizon - and we get the reflection. There was certainly a beautiful sunset last night with unusual shades of pink and purple. The bad news is that often these clouds herald another icy blast of winter. Ah well, we can't have it all ways. But at least in my photograph you will see that my snowdrops are coming along nicely. I would hardly say they were out, but at least they are showing me what colour they are going to be when they make that last little burst forth.