Winter Walk

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It was a cold day so I bundled up in lots of layers, smothered in scarves, fumbling in gloves. The sky was clear but the backsunded areas had been white with hoar frost for three days, picking out every winter twig in encrusted filigree. The ground was hard.

A stone bridge over the stream was treacherously white and I crossed cautiously, shivering at just the thought of getting wet in such icy conditions. I walked down to an inlet of the reservoir where duck scooted about below the willows, drawing ripples into the faultless surface. In the stillness their various voices and the qualities of their different splashes were accentuated; a small sploosh as a little grebe dived below the surface, a ruffled boil when a group of mallard took flight.

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Happy New Year!

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The last glowing embers of autumn have been doused by winter rains. Leaves that fell as copper and gold have dulled to the colours of old leather and charcoal. The woods are dark. Trees stand naked to the raw wind, black against the leaden sky.

The sky glowers over a bleak landscape where mud slows every step as it sucks at feet, weighs down legs, hampers progress. The gloom drenched world is wet and heavy; sodden with winter.

Midwinter is a time for fireside and story, a time when the pressure of work eases a little for a few days of celebration. This is often spent with friends and family but it doesn’t have to be. The riotous and manic, indulgence and indolence are optional. The most precious, most meaningful moments can be those spent quietly with the moon and the owls, to just breathe.

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Who Damaged Our Countryside ?

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Do you remember those summers when we woke to a dawn chorus so crashingly loud we were enveloped in it, the singers too many to distinguish, their innumerable woodnotes composed into one rich chord, gloriously intense, breathtakingly powerful? Cuckoos and curlews bubbled their calls across the valley and flocks of peewits rose on black and white wings above the quietly grazing cattle. Do you remember when busy sparrows argued around the eaves of every house and swallows thronged the beams in high roofed barns? Can you remember wading through wildflowers in hay meadows buzzing with insects, bright with butterflies, humming with bees? Or driving along the narrow lanes on a summer night when the moths in the headlamps were as thick as snowflakes in a blizzard? We had to clean the mess of splattered insects off the windscreen after every journey. Do you remember?

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An Exmoor squall

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The moorland valley reverberated with the roar. A primeval utterance echoing from cleave to cleave as if emanating from the belly of the earth. It was answered by another from the far side of the combe and there was a distant third from away down the valley. The wind was shaken by their power.

The big stag was stained black by the peat he soiled in, his shaggy neck was massive and he carried an impressive weaponry on his head. His heavily beamed antlers were tined rights, seven and eight atop, the points palmated and the tips blunted with age. When he roared other stags quailed before his majesty.

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Picking blackberries

Take a child blackberry picking. If you do not have any children of your own you may be able to borrow some from friends or relatives, they are unlikely to suffer much harm beyond a few scratches. It is so much fun and picking blackberries is such a good lesson.

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There is a bumper crop this year, brambles everywhere are bowed under the weight, and they are so glorious it is a pity not to take the opportunity to enjoy sweet, wild fruit from the hedges

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Letter to a small boy

Dear Tom,

By the time you are old enough to read this, the world will have spun on through several years of change. I hope that some of the changes will be good, and on your farm, with your Dad driving things the way he is, I believe that they will be. Change is happening in the countryside all the time and at an alarming rate. Such a lot is different from when I was your age. My lifetime probably seems long to you but it doesn’t feel it, and if time is as long as the universe my lifetime is shorter than a grass seed.

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