Grist to the Mill

11 March, 2004


"When the ground stiffens bone-hard, the snow flurries come. Huge, dark mops of cloud shake out swirls of white powder. Bit by bit it sticks - on gardens, pavements, pastures, meadows, ploughed fields and around trees - until the whole landscape is iced with a frozen, sparkling sugar. Under clear blue skies and a soft but brilliant sunlight, the effect is a dazzling transformation. Each scrunching footstep trespasses through a new stillness. The snow has shut the birds up for a couple of days.

Up on the Edge, the cold sweeps the scarp slope through gaunt trees and as the wind flings upwards through a huge old beech with some dry leaves and mast clinging to its leeward side, it sings like stream water over pebbles. Tracks reveal the ways of animals but end in mystery. A rabbit hops along the old quarry workers' track. Then there's a circle of red blood droplets and the tracks are gone. The rabbit vanishes, abducted from above. A fox jumps a wall, heads in a straight line of immaculate footsteps, one behind the other; another jump and it too vanishes, leaving only an old, spicy pong. The snow lasts a couple of days but the land feels renewed, cold and shriven. Nothing holds up spring for long, though, and with the red rudeness of thrusting rhubarb shoots, the season shoves its way back up. Birds of woods and hedges claim the morning sun with calls and song like a wild drumming on high-tensile cables, glass, stones and sticks. Out in open parkland pasture, huge walnut trees and an ancient field maple have known a few centuries, but days like this are rare and precious and their branches are full of buds and birds and brilliant light."

Lifted from a newspaper's "Country Diary" column, this passage appealed to me. It's very crafted, and sentences such as "Tracks reveal the ways of animals but end in mystery" have a lovely rhythmn. It was very cold today (Thurs 11 March). Brrrrr.

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