This is the month when the bones of the wood become visible. The autumn colours have been washed away and the cold has withered all but the hardiest of the plants. Patches of holly and other evergreens provide the bright spots in the otherwise muted browns and greys that winter has painted over the wood. The ridges and dells, which in spring are vivid with life, are pale and skeletal; whole swathes of ground visible that for most of the year you would be unable to set foot in unless you were prepared to fight the shrubs and foliage that filled every inch of space.
My morning walks are mostly completed in rain so heavy I dare not take the phone out to photograph what little I can see for fear of drowning it. The stream begins to rise until at last the section of path that runs close beside the stream disappears as the water bursts the banks, turbulent and thick with silt. The first morning after the breach I descend the stairs to it anyway and, carefully, test the depth of the flood with one of my walking poles. When I set it back on solid ground its coating of mud is higher than the tops of my wellingtons so I retreat back to the safety of the upper path. Even when the water has receded, over a week later, I take one look at the slick, thick gloop it has left behind and continue to walk on higher ground.
On the few days when the sun graces us with her presence I feel reborn, scampering hither and thither in a manner not unlike the rabbits I surprise from their morning ablutions. The smell of damp leaf litter is pervasive, burrowing deep into my olfactory system until I can scent nothing else. Nothing, that is, until I reach the far edge of the wood where the pungent scent of fox scat breaks through. The foxy whiskered gentleman who left the deposit is, unfortunately, nowhere to be seen.
With the sun comes the mist, drifting over the ground as if it were a swathe of the finest fabric, woven thin enough to see through and light enough to dance in the merest hint of a breeze it clothes the woods in a shimmering gauze that seems to hint of coming magnificence. The mist mostly evades the camera lens but there are moments when it cannot entirely avoid being captured, even if the pictures are a poor copy of reality.
Yet it is frost which is the jewel in January’s crown. The air on such mornings is sharp in the nose and lungs and harsh on any skin left inadvertently exposed, yet none of these sensations are truly unpleasant ones. Crunching across the ice glazed paths, seeing the leaves and ground glint and glisten, I feel more alive than I have for weeks. This is the sort of cold that, somehow, manages to make the air sing of spring even as it bites at any buds so foolish to have begun to emerge.
Of course the other thing that makes the air sing is the birds. We are still a good few weeks away from the start of what I think of as full-symphony-orchestra dawn choruses but the start of the lengthening of the days has reminded our feathered friends that harmonising is a thing that they can do. So I will leave you for this month with a video of a 360° view from what I think is the highest point of the wood, with a birdsong soundtrack (you may need to up your volume a bit to hear it).