It’s New Year’s Day and the sun is shining. Parts of the woodland floor have frozen; it’s been unusually cold. I crunch my way up the path. Its muddy surface has been lifted high on thousands of miniature ice columns – with each footstep I cave in the roofs of frost caverns leaving hiking-boot depressions behind. The sun is bright, the sky is blue and while the wood is mostly dark bare trunks with a last-year’s-mulch floor, the small clearings we have made in the trees have become white grottos. Here a thin smattering of snow has made it to the floor, converting the drab to pristine winter wonderland. Each time I come across a little snowy enclave, I stop to admire and take a photograph, look closely at the ice crystals nestled in the crook of an exposed tree branch, examine the transformation a dusting of white makes.
With the warmth in the sun comes smells that I only now realise have been absent for some time; a sweetness of nectar in the air, a hint of green leaf, the background of mossy trunk. The bonfire I light to welcome in the New Year temporarily changes things. At first the smell is thick and tarry, but as the flames take and the wood burns brighter, the grey smoke becomes white then transparent giving off a cleaner smell. Aromas of ham pottage mingle with woodsmoke and the tang of spiced apple juice. The quiet I had found, as I moved through the wood to its estuary cliffside, disappeared the moment I caught up with the children. But now, around the fire, things have calmed to a comfortable chatter as people eat. We look out over a tide that has frozen edges, something we don’t see often. A long tailed tit flock cheeps in the trees above us, fourteen or so birds, cheerful and pretty.
Around us, tiny green bluebell shoots push up through the soil. Honeysuckle leaves are already adorning the trailing vines that hold them – they look so small and fragile, a gentle pale green. They still have a long winter to survive, I feel I want to protect them from what is still to come, but they are designed for this and they will go from strength to strength as the spring approaches. The wood has started this year as it means to go on; it brings hope through the darker days that spring will come. From small delicate shoots the spring will grow to fill the wood; this is the beginning of the end of winter, the start of a new year.