‘What freezings I have felt, what dark days seen, What old December’s bareness everywhere!’
Sonnet 97 by William Shakespeare
What good is there to write about in winter? Yes, it’s most people’s least favourite season yet it has its quiet charms too – if we try to search them out and seek to appreciate their rugged beauty. There really are so many fine things to enjoy at this time of year, if we have the eyes to see them.
There was everything to repel— the cold, the frost, the hardness the snow dark sky and ground, leaflessness; the very furze chilled and all benumbed. Yet the forest was still beautiful….Harder and harder grew the frost, yet still the forest-clad hills possessed something that drew the mind open to their largeness and grandeur. Earth is always beautiful—always. Without colour, or leaf, or sunshine, or song of bird and flutter of butterfly’s wing; without anything sensuous, without advantage or gilding of summer—the power is ever there. Or shall we not say that the desire of the mind is ever there, and will satisfy itself, in a measure at least, even with the barren wild.’
From ‘A Long Winter’ by Richard Jefferies
However, the scene that Jefferies described is not at all typical of modern winters, thanks to the effects of global warming. The usual postcard photos of winter picture snow and frost scenes, but more usual today is my photo of the road into our village (unusually quiet for a change). Even here the winter colours, browns, ochres, dark greens, greys—the typical landscape colours of the painter—are pleasing if we only notice them as we pass by. In fact there is more colour here now than in the summer.
On sunny days the low arch of the winter sun pours into our front lounge windows warming the room so that no extra heat is required until evening. Outside, the sun creates dramatic lighting effects, with long morning and evening shadows and greater contrasts of colour than the dulled tones of summer. Out in the countryside new views are opened up by the absence of leaves—the lovely blue-greys of distant hills and clumps of woods becoming visible. Nearer at hand, the view from our back windows, is over the village chimney pots and attractively tiled old roofs, which add to the appeal, along with the parish church tower showing through the trees nearby.
Lining the lanes around here, the bare bones of tree silhouettes have a quiet stark winter beauty. Oak, beech, ash, field maple and others, each with its distinct tracery of branch and twigs standing out against the winter sky. Now we can see features that we hardly notice under summer’s mass of foliage. The hedgerows are adorned with subdued colours of a few remaining rose hips, hawthorn and holly berries, some feathery seed heads of old man’s beard and trees thickly clad with ivy.
This photo is of one of the quiet lanes leading out of the village and into the countryside. This is a one way road (no traffic is allowed in) which makes the rather incongruous speed limit sign an amusing sight. Was it put here by the Council without a sense of humour? The only safe speed out along this narrow lane is a careful crawl!
Pleasing Wint’ry Touches
Trees with attractive stems stand out dramatically in the late afternoon when they catch the low winter sunshine—silver birches especially, but the rough gnarled bark of oak and chestnut, and the smooth bark of beech and ash, also look good just now. Now is also a good time to notice the evergreens as they stand out against their bare neighbours. Wherever we are, our own place has quiet beauties to see. There’s no need to travel somewhere else. Nature comes to us. Our own road, street, village will always have something of interest, and there is no entrance fee—it’s all free, and it’s always ‘open for visitors’. Best of all, we can begin right where we are, in our gardens. If we have planted with winter interest in mind, as I have tried to do, a mid-winter walk around the garden may throw up some surprises, as I hope to show in a later post.
No, winter is never without its charms – our glorious countryside is ‘Beautiful- always.’
‘God sets the bright procession on its way
And marshals all the orders of the year.
He marks the bounds which winter may not pass,
And blunts his pointed fury, in its case,
Russet and rude, folds up the tender germ, Uninjur’d with inimitable arts;
And, ere one flow’ry season fades and dies,
Designs the blooming wonders of the next.’
From ‘Winter Morning Walk’ by William Cowper