The seasons have been used as metaphor for human life since the first baby was born in springtime.
It is less obvious that places themselves seem to age with the season’s progression.
Winter is the last season, it is old age and the world seems dead, but of course it is not and nature is just waiting for the spring : for the cycle of life to renew and for life to return.
In spring everything can seem blushingly bare, awkward and gangly like an adolescent; in summer it is noisy and confident; in autumn it is blowsy, brash and colour splashed, but in winter, in real winter, when the snow falls, the street and the field and the very sky seem to belong to another century all together.
The traffic stops, the streets empty, the sky is heavy with feathers floating down.
People move only when they have to and the birds pushing through the white air make the sound of wings . The white roofs are Bruegel and the woodsmoke is from twisted chimneys.
The world seems ancient when it snows. It seems infolded and safe.
In a white winter, the creases are smoothed out and a wise unblemished face is turned up to a beautiful blank sky.
The hunt is on every weekend and the ominous crump of guns keeps us out of the forest.
I have bought florescent fleece scarves to mark us out in the gloomy woods and hopefully to prevent us from being shot, but their jarring colour is very unlovely.
When venturing into the edge of the forest ( on none hunting days) there are still a few birds to hear. The high pitched chuffing train call of the tiny goldcrest; the crackle of the mistle thrush; the screeching note of the black woodpecker as it moves from bare winter tree to bare tree.
Beech trees are beautifully monumental denuded of their leaves. Their trunks are smooth and grey, fine limestone pale in the weak light.
On a cut log the tiniest of fungi jelly babies break the surface, nosing up into the damp November air.
An ermine ran across our path, dived into a jumble of rocks and then sat straight up to watch us stop and stare back.
The morning smelt of spring, but this twist of life was dressed for deep snow or a coronation. It was so totally white with a tail dipped in black ink that it was impossible not to grin.
Then it was gone and I spent the rest of the day reading about stoats ( or short tailed weasels ) and marvelling at the ludicrous link between this vicious shape shifting “rat” and the royalty of Europe.
Ermine are the winter colours of stoats. As the days shorten their coats whiten and the unremarkable brown rabbit killer metamorphoses into this royal creature. Our ancestors were so impressed by the cleanliness of their fur in a winter world of brown mud and sludge, that they decided that ermine would rather die by hunters than foul or besmirch their clean coats. To hunt an ermine all you had to do was lay mud across the entrance to their den and they would rather die than be dishonoured by dirt. This gave raise to the death before dishonour mottos and their purity became linked to the idea of royalty. Having a cloak of ermine pelts with the little black tails dotted against the fur become the badge of kings, queens and emperors throughout history. The most recent European coronation of King Willem-Alexander of Holland saw both King and his Queen wrapped in swathes of ermine to signify their royalty to all the world.
It is of course bad luck for the stoat, but the fall from grace of fur in fashion is bound to be reflected in coronation regalia very soon. Most ermine fur came from Russia though the very name ermine is supposed to be corruption of Armenia where the Greeks considered the ermine to be from.
I wish I had a great photo for you, but I have nothing but the memory of it to share with you. An “ Armenian rat” that cloaked the shoulders of kings and trimmed the crown of queens.
Watching my neighbour clean his windows is a note worthy event. The wind rattling the shutters is remarkable. The cat woke up in a bad mood and won’t be stroked because there is snow static in the air. I think a hen harrier flew by, but it might just be a seagull disoriented by being so very far from the sea. The news is always bad, or maybe it’s just funny like the electric spark from the end of the cat’s nose or the last leaf whirled skittishly from the bare tree or just January, just January leaving.
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