‘There’s an art to the business of wintering. It’s a time to revel in the muddier waters of human emotion and to hibernate magnificently. It’s not just the trees, shorn of flowers and leaves and berries, who turn inward.’ (Jini Reddy, in Winter: An anthology for the changing seasons)
6/3/2017 I was comforted and amused to happen across this declaration on winter just two days ago: the idea of it being possible to describe hibernation as magnificent gives a retrospective, dignified sparkle to my spectacularly unproductive winter.
Although I am a firm follower of the astronomical calendar, in which the equinox marks the start of spring (luckily for me, as I am rather later than intended with my winter newsletter), this year I have decided to claim the best of both worlds. Having seen out February with a stomach bug followed by a friend’s funeral – which pretty well sums up the intervening months since the autumn newsletter – I have never been so happy to greet the first of March, and with it a concrete promise of the approach of spring, as well as a much welcome relaxation of the bird flu-related poultry-keeping restrictions. The chickens suffered their confinement patiently but raucously!
It has been heartbreaking to lose 6 creatures in as many weeks; only one from an identifiable and ‘old-age’- (for an ex-battery chicken) related illness. Chatty Chicken and Big Fluff are sorely missed, as well as 3 ratties and a degu.
I can only hope that such an unusual run of losses does not repeat itself any time in the near future, otherwise it might result in the animals having to take me to the vet instead of the other way round. As always, my response to loss is to counteract it with the acquisition of more creatures – an effective remedy, although it carries the danger of an ever-expanding furry and feathery family!! Several new ratties have already arrived at Crossways Farm, and I suspect some trousered chickens might make an appearance in the spring… We also have one bold new family member who joined us of his own accord: a robin who appears instantly when chicken treats are scattered. He serenades me daily, especially when I am sweeping out the goat shed: he sits on the crossbeam above my head and sings so quietly and beautifully that I have to watch him closely to make sure it’s not a different robin singing from a long distance away.
Felicity and Ilo as usual merit their own news bulletin. Both these troublemakers have worked out how to get past the hurdles that the goat breeder confidently told me I could use to make pens or barriers: Felicity puts her head through the rails, moves it up and down violently to unhook the ends and then barges her way through; Ilo on the other hand employs agility and nonchalantly jumps over them as though he is a horse. Try as I might to take a video of this amusing (though inconvenient) spectacle, when he sees the camera he refuses to perform and waits till my back is turned. He has also started to jump over the terrace fence more regularly, which does not bode at all well for the spring and summer when there will be more incentive to do so, with tasty flowers, roses and human company beckoning…
The only other garden drama this winter has been the demise of a large cedar in the recent gales (photos below). It very considerately fell in just the right direction so as not to take any other trees, hedges or fences down with it, which it could easily have done. Felicity and Ilo are very happy with their all-you-can-eat buffet, but despite their best efforts I think they won’t make much of a dent in the foliage before the tree surgeons arrive to clear it up. I counted 41 or 42 rings on the trunk, and thought this meant the previous owners of Crossways Farm must have planted it. However, the next day I happened upon a photo of the tree from 1982 as a spindly but tall baby (photo right), leading me to conclude that my father probably planted it as a 2 or 3 year old soon after moving here (and perhaps my ring counting was slightly out!).
Despite my insistence that spring does not officially begin for another 2 weeks, the signs of spring since the beginning of February have provided most of my winter hope and joy: nearly all my chickens finished moulting and started laying again at the start of the month (see photo for their current favourite, not to mention precarious, nesting spot). Around the middle of the month I heard the first blackbird sing outside my house, and saw the first blue tit checking out the nestbox opposite the kitchen window. The ducks are also pairing up and prospecting for nests, as I can tell from their renewed interest in the terrace flowerpots (though I doubt they will find a suitable place there!). The arrival of snowdrops, then daffodils, luminous yellow-green catkins and impossibly furry pussy willow, as well as the first blackthorn blossom spotted today, all complete the picture and give assurance that we are hurtling towards greenness, flowers and bird song…