On the hot days in February, I wore summer clothes. A man that I did not know walked past me. ‘Bit early for that dress yet, isn’t it?’ I felt my face grow red. I could hear my Mum’s words ringing back from years ago when, as a child, I’d begged to wear my blue gingham summer dress to school: ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May is out.’ I gave the man an embarrassed grimace, and began to walk off. Then I thought, and turned back.
‘If I don’t wear my dress now, I may not get another chance this year.’
‘Oh, okay,’ said the man, and went on his way.
I can’t see the point in dressing for the seasons these days; why boil in February and freeze in July? I try to dress for the weather as it comes while carrying something for emergencies. That’s why you can catch me in the wood in August wearing a woolly hat.
The weather over this last week has been particularly variable. After the wonderful weather we’d made use of to build the toilet shed, the forecast is for rain and wind and as the roof felt is not secure I decide I’d better go and deal with it. I only have one day, so despite the grey weather, I set off. I can barely make out the wood across the field; when I arrive, I find it filled with mist. I’ve never seen it like this before. I don’t hear anything much, but that’s not because the wood is silent. Birds are calling, but the notes seem to be swallowed almost before they can be uttered. There is the occasional plop as a drip hits the woodland floor, every now and then I catch the whirr of wings as I disturb wood pigeons roosting way above my head but it’s all strangely deadened – even my footsteps seem muffled. I hardly recognise where I am walking – I feel like I’m seeing the trees through greaseproof paper. Trunks close to me look hazy, and beyond them is a grey void that rapidly swallows the trees further away. As I walk, the cold air has substance; it pushes against my face and I feel as though I am moving through it like some strange liquid. I begin to notice the spider webs. They are everywhere, each thread emerging from the mist, suddenly made visible by a thousand dewy droplets. There are the traditional orb spider webs of children’s book illustrations, but there are other types too. Some are jumbles of threads, others horizontal platforms between twigs and branches, there are tubes and hanging threads; they make the trees look like strange trampoline playgrounds; tree top assault courses for adventurous insects… I climb my ladder, and, level with the first web draped twigs, I work away with hammer and roof tacks. Suddenly I realise the sounds have changed. I look up. The mist has silently crept away without me noticing and I see the wood I know back again, if a little damp.
Today, yet another mood of spring. The sun shining in the blue sky feels hot on my skin, but the wind is strong and cold. The ground is wet and there is standing water in wheel ruts the tractor has made all over the field; the water ticks and clicks as it moves through the soil.
I can hear the soughing of wind in the branches well before I enter the wood, but even over the trees, I hear the sound of bird song. I am blasted by great tits and there is another, more melodious song that I’m not sure about. I hang around for a bit, but despite searching with my binoculars, can’t find the owner of the voices. I guess at robin and chaffinch.
Moving into the wood, the wind is not so loud in the trees – it is more protected here. Tumbled walls stand out like enormous caterpillars in their vibrant green moss coats; the same green is beginning to seep into the floor of the wood. Lords-and-ladies poke up here and there, but it is the slowly rising bluebell leaves that are beginning to shift the colour balance. The sun is bright, and the shadows of trunks fall over the ground making patterns with contrast. Today, I can see a long way between the trunks, most of which are thin and pale. When the sun shines through the bare wood like this, it highlights the glorious chaos of the trees. Trunks lie at all angles, many propped against each other – most alive, some dead – and the floor is littered with fallen trees; a fantastically untidy criss-cross of habitat.
I squelch on along the path, passing again close to the wood edge. Here, gusts of wind flutter dried blades of tufty grass and send last year’s leaves scuttering along the floor. A tree groans and creaks ominously. Picked out in the sunshine, primrose buds are showing and the nuthatch’s warm chestnut brown is eye catching in the branches above. A great tit shouts and blue tits shout back, bustling about in gangs.
Today, at the cosy shed, I feel the need for a fire. As I sit and write, the sun begins to hide away and the sky becomes grey. I let the fire go out so it will be safe to leave; cold seeps in from my feet upwards as the wind blows away the heat through the cracks in the floor and round the door. By the time the cold reaches my elbows, I am ready to go. A curlew’s plaintive cries sound, the tide is high out on the estuary, and the mood of the wood is changing again. I hear the tawny owl hoot, and two buzzards call as they soar together, low over the trees above my head. Spring has so many faces – each day, each hour different from the next. I race for the car as I see grey pillars of rain reach from the ground to the clouds ahead of me. I just make it in time as heavy, globular rain drops begin to clatter down on the car’s metal roof. Over the course of the day I have gone from roasting in just a t-shirt to being snuggled in t-shirt, thermal top, two fleeces, a cagoule, a scarf and sheepskin mittens. I think that, for now, I will go with my policy of dressing for the weather, not the season. That way, I can be ready for whatever weather spring decides to throw at me.