I resumed my winter treasures this year thinking that there were only two or three subjects I had had to leave out in 2018. But as the month of February progresses, I find, again, that I am having difficulty deciding what to include. January brought aconites and snowdrops, and the start of February saw my first violet and periwinkle sightings as well as the first blackbird, thrush and skylark songs, all within 24 hours. The mild winter has brought out the blackthorn already, as well as daffodils and early-spring-flowering plums and cherries. The hawthorn in my roadside hedge is already sprouting, and weeping willows are starting to glow green-yellow. It is easy to trick oneself into thinking March is already underway, but I have no desire to wish away this most unloved month of February. Part of the pleasure is in knowing what lies around the corner, and savouring the hints of something not yet arrived. I wouldn’t want to lose a month of anticipation; nor would I want to lose a month of calm in which to continue my slow but steady and satisfying progress on long-neglected jobs.
So, instead, I am thinking back to December and January afternoons, and choosing a topic that applies to the whole of this season of low sun: the quality of light and shadow on a sunny day. It is glorious in the morning, but the afternoon brings a special orange glow. It is the kind of oblique light chased by artists and photographers, and not easily found in summer, except at sunrise and sunset.
I have noticed this beautiful light most on days out spent visiting rural churches. I don’t know if it is the difference in landscape – the light and shadow cast over hills, meadows and streams in a way that doesn’t happen so much on my hilltop of arable farmland – or simply that I am out enjoying myself, travelling through the countryside and observing my surroundings more keenly.
The effect it has on me is one of euphoria, something I most often experience in spring. I feel an intense love of winter and the Suffolk countryside that surrounds me. In that moment, it seems there is no need to go anywhere else ever again: not for adventure, not for relaxation or exercise, not for creativity, and certainly not for beauty. I want the day never to end. Not because I don’t like the early darkness, but because the light is too beautiful to part with.