Delicacy.

The sun is up for such a brief moment. A bar of sunshine slants across the hill and inside all the dust of December is illuminated on glass and table and books. Outside the sparrows cluster to the unfreezing bread crumbs, blackbirds eat the half thawed windfall apples and a solitary goldfinch fluffs herself into the seed house to gorge in safety.

In some corners the sunlight never reaches at all and the frost forms thicker and thicker, riming each leaf with new flowers of ice, blooming delicately, quietly in the cold, still air.

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“There will come soft rains…”

It has been raining here. Wind in the fir trees, wind rattling the shutters and soft, almost incessant rain.

The summer and autumn were long, hot and dry. The neighbours were noisy and open windows let in little cool air and plenty of racket; so when the temperature finally dropped it was a pleasure to close the windows and listen the gentle drum of rain on the roof.

My favourite stream in the woods has been dry for months, but after so much rain I felt sure it must be running again.

Today we squelched up passed the bare trees and luminous moss to find clear water running over scoured rocks.

The sound was deliciously simple and clean. The great sponge of the forest had soaked up enough rain to allow the stream to flow above ground again, sweeping away the dark autumn leaves of the bed to reveal the bright pale limestone beneath. The rain patered on the brim of my felt hat. The harts’ tongue ferns glowed green in the winter gloom; a whirl of chaffinches shook water from the smooth beeches and the ravens laughed high over head : “there will come soft rains…”

 

There Will Come Soft Rains

Sara Teasdale, 18841933

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, 
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

From The Language of Spring, edited by Robert Atwan, published by Beacon Press, 2003.

Christkindelsmarik (Christmas Market In Alsatian )

Christmas trees have history . Pagans used ever greens to bring life to the darkest day of the year and they have been brought into homes down the centuries around the shortest day of the year to comfort us with the knowledge that the world is not dead and that birth will happen.

The very earliest recorded public Christmas trees are from Latvia and Lithuania and the idea seemed to have traveled south to Germany where a tree was set up in 1570 decorated with apples, nuts, pretzels and paper flowers. Martin Luther is credited with putting up the first tree in a home and the fashion spread.

This year was such a good apple harvest here, but the pressoir is finally closed as nearly all the apples have been brought in and juiced or turned to cider.  However some trees still hold on to their apples. Perfect red or yellow apples hang from leafless branches like an opening for Sleeping Beauty .The  idea of collecting and even gilding such winter apples is obvious and hung on fir trees they were the prototype for the glass baubles and decorations of our artifical trees today.

Queen Victoria’s German husband brought the Christmas tree tradition with him to England and an engraving of the family admiring their decorated tree started a fashion that swept the country.  I love the detail that the same engraving was reproduced in the USA , but the woman was without her crown and the man without his mustache in order to make the figures look like an American family – and so the Christmas tree became fashionable across the Atlantic and eventually the whole world!

Strasbourg Christmas market is the oldest in the  world. The capital of the Alsace also calls itself the capital of Christmas. German and French alternately, Strasboroug has kept alive the traditions of the Christmas tree for over 400 years. The shootings in the colourful market earlier this week by a deranged criminal with a gun were frightening, but the stalls will be open again this weekend, the police have done their job and the last uncollected apples on the trees are still telling the story of light in the darkest time of the year.

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Winter sky.

Winter makes me look at the sky.  In other seasons there is the distraction of growth and even decay, but in winter buildings look uglier, the people darker and the trees barer: so I look up at the sky instead.

I grew up in Britain and the wind from the Atlantic was never far away.  Clouds raced, skies stormed and then cleared and blue sky was measured in the cloth needed to make a pair of sailor’s trousers.  The sky was ever changeable, unpredictable, infuriating. 

Here in this corner of central Europe the weather has a more middle aged, less tempestuous nature.  When it is cold it is cold for a long time, when it is hot the sun blazes from clear blue skies until you ache for a forgiving cloud.  Such stability has a lot to recommend it, hats stay on heads, hair out eyes and the trees are rarely ripped out by their roots; but such uniform skies can be dull.  So when winter brings rain and wind, I imagine that the tang of the sea has not been completely lost on the air and I look up to admire the rare roaring majesty  of  a cloud wracked sky.

The names for clouds are wonderful, cumulonimbus, altostratus, cirrus, anvil  and best of all mammatus. 

Boiling, lolling, floating, twisting in layers of faces, creatures, monsters and messages from the gods, the clouds are the perfect counterpoint to the small life on the ground ( and phone) as they lift up our eyes to the absorbing, liberating  indifference of the sky.

Birds don’t recognise borders.

I found out about a orchard planting initiative in my village almost by accident. An old fashioned piece of paper dropped in my letter box said a field was being planted with trees the next day and volunteers were welcome. 

A long field on the edge of the village was staked out with pegs and bare rooted pear and apple trees lay waiting to be pruned and planted. A knowledgeable man snipped off almost every branch with great care and precision and holes were dug to place the trees in. A pleasant community endeavour you might think, but what was was more remarkable than that people were giving up Saturday for the good of birds, was the fact the the land was in France, the trees were Swiss and the people were French, Swiss, German and British.

This slice of hope in  a crazy world was funded by an anonymous donation in Switzerland that was to help little owls increase their tiny claw hold in Europe. The land was donated by a French family who love birds and the work was undertaken by locals, Swiss volunteers from over the border and school children. Little owls were extinct in the area, but very careful management and cooperation between bird lovers in three different nations is slowly recreating the tree and hedge rich habitat they need to survive and move effortlessly between countries. The generosity of someone I will never know, across a border that means nothing to wildlife, may hopefully help the spread of this beautiful bird.

While borders seem clanging shut across the world, this seems something to celebrate!