St Mary’s, Badwell Ash
Outdoor temperature: 17.9˚C; indoor temperature: 11.4˚C, humidity 62%
I went back to the same area on my next excursion. I don’t often do this on consecutive outings, but it wasn’t too far away from home, and there were several churches in the vicinity that I hadn’t yet been to. The main reason for my choice, however, was instinctual not logical. Only with some thought have I worked out that the drive and the area have pleasant associations for me, of days out and adventures. With few exceptions, I have taken this route only for leisure purposes, so the journey itself feels relaxing rather than a chore.
Butterfly rescues: 3 As it turns out, there is an unexpected hazard involved in visiting churches in early spring – in fact, three. Who would have thought butterflies coming out of hibernation could singlehandedly create so many? The first is that instead of practising the cello, I spend my time trying to rescue butterflies fluttering helplessly in church windows. The second is that I risk ending up in A&E with some injury caused by less-than-sensible attempts to reach butterflies at high altitude: it’s all very well getting up there, but you also have to get down again with both hands in use as a butterfly trap. The third hazard is that, inevitably, there will always be butterflies out of reach, causing me no small amount of heartache. Perhaps I will have to invent the world’s longest extendable butterfly net specifically for rescuing butterflies trapped in churches…
St George’s, Stowlangtoft
Outdoor temperature: 11.6˚C; indoor temperature: 10˚C, humidity 53%
My first butterfly rescue of the afternoon was an easy one: it was on the floor of Stowlangtoft church. It looked sleepy but I thought a little sunshine and nectar might revive it, and I put it on a primrose outside the chancel door through which I had entered. I could do nothing to help the other butterfly which was fluttering at the top of a window.
St Mary’s, Wetherden
Outdoor temperature: 9.5˚C; indoor temperature 9.2˚C, humidity 56%
I was looking forward to returning to Wetherden: it seemed like a friendly village with a pretty church. This time there was no funeral, and the church was open to visitors. My aim for the day was 40 minutes of cello practice in each of 3 churches, for a respectable total of two hours: much more than I ever used to do in a day, but I have noticed that it takes my fingers a good half hour or more to loosen up, and often frustration only starts to subside after an hour or so. Therefore, the longer I practise, the more likely I am to go home feeling positive about my progress and my ability to fulfil the rather ambitious timetable of concerts I arranged in a fit of enthusiasm. Or recklessness.
12/4/2018 Just as blackthorn is one of the first spring blossoms to burst its buds, weeping willows are one of the first trees to break dormancy. Rather than losing their orange glow in spring like the crack willow in my garden, the emerging translucent green leaves increase the radiance of their flowing branches, and from a distance the two colours blend into gold. Add sunshine into the mix, and Rapunzel could barely compete.
Today marked a significant change in my church-visiting journeys around Suffolk; a change which had been taking place almost imperceptibly over recent months, and had finally reached a turning point. I found myself able to listen to music again, for the first time in years.
7/4/2018 My belief that spring might have arrived was premature. More than a week later, there is still barely a green leaf to be seen, barely a ray of sunshine to be felt. The meadows along the Brett Valley are flooded, and my garden pond is encroaching on the lawn. It hardly seems feasible that exactly a year ago I saw my first swallows of the season: I expect I will be waiting a good few weeks longer this year.
Perhaps the feeling of extended winter has been partially responsible for my slowness in choosing a second spring treasure. Busyness over Easter accounts for another part of the delay, and the remainder – the biggest obstacle – has been caused by at least five changes of mind over which particular spring wonder to settle on. The unusually slow progress of the season means that many delights of early spring, which usually take place consecutively, are coinciding this year, and choosing between them is nearly impossible. I feel like a bumblebee buzzing from flower to flower, too excited about the appearance of so many different food sources at once, and unable to decide which nectar I like best.
Last week I opted out, but I feel it is high time to commit myself. A sunny day finally arrived a few days ago – the first since I last wrote – and sitting on the terrace in the sun was more conducive to forcing myself into a decision.
I chose blackthorn. A blossom that I was half expecting to include in my late winter treasures, and the first to put some colour back in the hedgerows.
Holy Trinity, Barsham
Outdoor temperature: 4.1˚C; indoor temperature 6.1˚C, humidity: 51%
I hadn’t planned to visit another church in the morning before setting off for Stansted airport, via Bury St Edmunds to drop off my cello at a friend’s house. But before I went to bed the previous evening it occurred to me that it would be possible, if I was a little organised about packing up. 7 churches felt like a respectable total for a stay of less than two days.
26/3/2018 It is hard to believe it is nearly the end of March and signs of spring are only just beginning. Apparently deciding after the last icy spell that they had waited long enough, all the flowers and blossom appeared all at once: blackthorn in the hedgerows, carpets of primroses, daffodils in earnest, violets and periwinkles. I saw the first green leaf on my hardiest hawthorn plant this week, and a moorhen made up her mind to settle in her nest on the front pond.
But still there is far less in the way of spring than was to be found at the beginning of March last year. Mowing the lower lawn is still a good fortnight or more off – I would sink into a mole tunnel-ridden bog if I were to try it now – and I have yet to find a white or mauve violet, celandine or Siberian squill in my garden. The daffodils are only just beginning to think about showing their faces.
St Andrew’s, Mutford
Outdoor temperature: 6.6˚C; indoor temperature: 7.1˚C, humidity: 51%
First thing next morning I left Beccles for Mutford, switching my ‘waterproof’ boots for my walking boots, hoping for slightly drier feet today. I arrived at a pretty round-towered church, which I was disappointed to find locked. But help was close at hand: I rang the first number on the noticeboard for the key, and Ivan – the churchwarden whose wife I had just spoken to on the phone – appeared a few minutes later to let me in. I offered to return the key afterwards, but he said he’d prefer to wait; so, feeling a little awkward, and guilty for interrupting his morning, I hastily took out my cello and played a couple of movements of a Bach suite. It was only the second time someone had waited for me in order to lock up afterwards, and the previous time was by prior appointment. By the time I left the church, however, I would have reason to feel thoroughly glad that our paths had crossed.
18/3/2018 It is the penultimate day of winter. This year the equinox falls on 20th March instead of 21st. You wouldn’t know it though: the arctic conditions have returned. The temperature dropped from 16˚C to -2˚C in 24 hours and the ground is covered in snow and ice.
But my winter therapy seems to have worked: I don’t mind if the cold weather lasts a little longer, and my list of winter treasures has grown so long that I will have to resume the project next year. In fact, I have enjoyed the challenge so much that I am thinking of continuing it for the remaining seasons of the year; and, contrary to my initial assumption, I think I might find it more difficult to choose 13 spring treasures than I did winter ones. After all, how do you identify the most important elements in a bombardment of euphoria?