Nature columnist Lucy Purdy searches for signs of life in the winter landscape

Beneath dark, empty skies, a cloak of mist clings to the hills. The horizon is topped by skeletal shapes, the kind my sister and I called ‘witchy’ trees: leafless, with pointed fingers clawing beseechingly toward the clouds. Morning rain rattles over my coat hood and the landscape feels muted and flat, as though nature has shut down.

Back inside, spring blooms tumble from my flower press. Crimson poppies, translucent now, fall to the floor alongside butter-yellow rose petals. The bright heads of red campion too, foretelling tales of sun-warmed hedgerows and the year’s first cuckoos calling out. Slipping the flowers between paper sheets had been a bid to hold on to nature’s fading beauty, to grasp summer in the winter. But this isn’t right either.

Over the coming days, I look more closely. I notice grass shrouded in fuzz-fine particles of frost. I realise how the trees, unburdened by leaves, can better withstand the bashing of wintry gales. I spot a hushed hint of spring: catkins poised in pinkgreen skins, and the fiery colours of hedgerows newly crammed with gleaming shoots of willow and dogwood. Crab apples, Snow White-crimson and ochre, dot the grass like jewels. I wonder what the world looks like to a magpie as a pair pirouette, chattering against the clouds. A flash of ink-tipped, wind-whipped wings.

This is a season to embrace uncertainty, accept the chill and enjoy life’s beautiful bare bones

In a field, which thrashing rain has redecorated with mud, moss and lichen coat  the branches of an old favourite oak tree. Their patterns embellish the bark like the work of the most skilled tattooist. From elongated tufts to a patchwork of  frills, infinite shades of green explode across just a few inches.

These are nature’s minor miracles, which no glum mood can hide. They  remind me that this is a season to embrace uncertainty, accept the chill and enjoy life’s beautiful bare bones. It’s a time to gaze into a fire, enjoy the healthy, primal  hypnosis, and consider what sleeps inside nature’s dark boxes, waiting  to be taken out and allowed to shine.

While so much challenges, perplexes, frustrates, I feel too the comforting inevitability of renewal. I trust in the return of moments when I feel as though joy could fill the earth. Maybe nothing is hopeless, nothing dead, and it is all only waiting. When longing pulls me toward the gaps, nature is there to answer.

  • James Taylor

    Beautifully written