The sweet organic scent of mulch and decaying leaves rises from the copse floor and into my airways. This perfume, encased in autumn dew, is warmed gently by the low sun and distilled into the atmosphere, the scent made stronger by the weight of my boots. My feet work their way through the dark coffee-ground brown leaf litter without rustle; the leaves without direct sunlight now sodden. The shade induced moisture lingers from night to day and night again. The ground here will not be dry, despite the entanglement of Hawthorn roots below, until full Spring is unleashed upon this land in late April or May.
By then, this compost composed by nothing more than nature itself, millions of worms, Sow bugs, Springtails, mites and millipedes, will be feeding new life into Major Oak and his gnarled Hawthorn friends as their saps begin to rise up trunks, along branches and into fingertip twigs of new buds as fresh and green as the grass in the pasture below. Today the Major is still clinging defiantly to his russet coat. There is little in the way of wind or breeze for him to surrender it to. It is a perfectly still, crisp winter’s morning.
As I pass through the copse and into a small abandoned croft of grass, thick with wet and fading at tip and foot-of-tuft, the boundary of bramble is alive. My presence alarms the Redwings as they scatter from shrub to shrub, suddenly raging from the thickets that moments ago appeared calm and empty. With each new footstep along the row a handful of Redwings ascend into the skeletal canopy above, all ‘Seeeps’ and ‘chucks’. In just this half-an-acre there must be a hundred or more. Every so often, one braver than the rest waits until the last to make his move. Emerging skywards, at such proximity the cream and speckled breast flanked by rust-orange underwings are a splash of October colour against the white-light haze of December sun. The momentary hysteria of the hedges soon dampens as the birds settle safely out-of-reach in the Hawthorns in the next field.
Standing on the footbridge over the river Sence the water is crystal clear, enriched by the cold and deepened by the torrents of a few weeks ago. The sun’s reflection on the water makes the ripples dance. Like gazing out across the sea on a summer’s day the refracting light causes me to squint. Below the surface aquatic vegetation doubled over by the current sways emerald-green. Vibrant, this lush green blanket looks a world away from the faded fields and the optical-illusion jet-black of naked trees against vast, empty whitewashed skies.
The year is drawing to its irrepressible close. The fields barren, the hedgerows unoccupied, the sky wide, uninterrupted. It is easy to cast Winter as the season of death and decay, the dark season, the final season. The wheel of the year is always turning. In reality what we see and smell of Winter is not a season of finality, it is a season of rest and renewal where mother nature works quietly behind the scenes. Winter is merely the calm before the storm of an erupting Spring.