Sun shines through the ice, dazzling glints reflecting from the frosted grass. Today I am glad of my mittens; it is cold enough that it takes more than a fleeting touch of the sun’s rays to turn white to green, to defrost the fields. Sheep huddle where the sun has reached, spreading slowly with the creeping warmth; the sun is still hot, and the sky is almost cloudless. From this distance, the wood looks different and I realise it is because I can see into it; the summer curtain of leaves has blown away exposing the woodland interior to view.
I crunch through the thick frost. My toes and nose are cold; I had forgotten these feelings over the summer. Climbing the wall to our wood, I see the frost has not managed to creep under what is left of the canopy; those leaves that hang on in the branches have held some warmth beneath them, protecting the woodland floor. They keep out some of the sun though – it is cool in the woods this morning.
Last week, the smell of mushrooms in the wood was overpowering in places. Today, the smell is of cold, damp air and the fungi have all but disappeared. The wood is quiet. Just a flutter of a breeze starts the leaves spiralling to the ground. The yew and oak stand out now – yew steadfastly green studded with red berries; oak magnificently mosaiced in brown, orange, yellow, green. The woodland floor is strewn with leaves, many brown, a few red, but all dry and as I begin to walk I set off a tremendous crunching underfoot. Alarm calls sound overhead. Jays and tits are not happy with the noise I am making. A greater spotted woodpecker joins them.
The sun is low and shards of bright light stab through from the wood’s edges, penetrating deep. The contrast is hard on my eyes; sunlight flickers on and off as I pass through the trees, in and out of their shade. With the increased rain of the last few weeks, the wood floor is damp, but unlike springtime, there is no new growth of plant life on the ground. Instead, I notice the moss, vibrant and green, swathing limestone, tree trunks, anywhere there is damp. In summer the moss dries becoming pale; in spring it is hidden by bluebells and wild garlic – but autumn is the time for the moss to shine. It is everywhere, reaching half a metre or more up some trees, its brightness at odds with the fallen leaves around it.
I see the badgers are still active, the birds are bobbing about, but there is a distinct feeling of emptiness around me. I wonder if I am imagining it, if it is just my loneliness now my children are back at school. But as I look around me and listen, there is a definite drawing back, a readiness for the colder shorter days approaching, an anticipation of the winter ahead.