The year begins, days are short. Light struggles to find its way into the wood. Water hangs from soaked twigs in black, glistening droplets, each movement of the branches cascading heavy drips onto the wet mulch below – the woodland floor that is a heavy brown mix of mud and leaf. Twisted yews brood in ranks; thickly cloaked in dark, flattened needles, they protect the gloom. Skeletal ash and oak reach to the skies, wave angry fists at the wind as it snarls through their branches. Ice cold rain drops from slate cloud onto the saturated landscape. Signs of life are subdued; the quiet is unnerving in the half-light. Trunks and moss, fallen trees and last year’s dead undergrowth – all merge into a discord of extinguished light, dulled sound, drained colour.
A change. The flash of a red scarf, a shout, thudding boots. Dancing flame, the smell of cocoa, the clank of tin mugs. Children are running, arguing, shouting, laughing; they twist colour through the wood as they run brightly hatted and mittened along woodland paths. But it is only an interlude; as they go they take with them the decorations recently fastened in the trees to celebrate Christmas, to expel the dank shadows. The fire stutters without attendance, the embers die. What light there has been in this day ebbs away. A robin sings for the twilight, but stops abruptly, ashamed of its own audacity. The grey deepens, the wind drops. A crow calls – harsh, chilling; harbinger of what? In the wood, as the year begins, days are short.