The sky is a pale, watercolour blue. It’s streaked with thick grey-blue cloud edged in delicate pink. Ice stands sentinel on every blade of grass, every ivy and bramble leaf in the hedgerow. Frosted sheep are breathing steam and yesterday’s boot marks in the mud, then water filled, are now ghostly ice footprints, leading to the wood. Beneath my feet I crush tiny roses of ice, a whole bank of exquisite flowers frozen into existence overnight; further on, they are replaced by swathes of miniature crystal ferns clinging to each grass blade. The grazed, bare field has been transformed into a beautiful, shining white canvas; it feels sacrilegious to make my mark on it.
Moss on the wood’s outer wall is glistening, the fallen leaves of the woodland floor beyond are crusted with glittering jewels. Coppice stumps look sugar dusted, fallen trees are outlined in white powder paint against the brown of standing trunks behind. Frost rimmed holly leaves look festive with their red berries, yew trees too, though their shade is dense and gloomy. As I walk, I hear the crisp, slightly squeaky, crunch of the frozen leaves beneath my feet and a low intermittent twitter from above my head. There is no breeze to stir a branch, a leaf, a blade of grass. The deciduous boughs are bare.
Yesterday the kettle’s welcoming burble was at contrast with the frozen leaves around it; today the fire circle is cold, lonely. I walk past. My heart thuds as a hare erupts from the undergrowth, bounds away down the slope, all dark ears and legs. Scattered leaves settle and silence trickles back, only to broken by the cronk of a raven. Its silhouette drifts lazily over the trees.
I turn towards home. My fingers are numb, my body is cold. I walk through a less dense part of the wood, and suddenly sunlight blasts through the clouds. I feel the warmth of the rays, smell a waft of spring; there is a momentary sight of things to come. My heart lifts… and then the illusion is gone. Clouds close in, enveloping cold tumbles back. An egret skims the white field; it seems an effort to keep airborne. I leave it in peace and head home for hot soup and tea, leaving behind the chill, taking with me warmer memories of the glimpse of spring in the beauty of the hoar frost.