Picture perfect winter days have been few and far between this season and when they do deign to appear I’m like a child again, eager to step forth into the white hued countryside, to inhale the crisp icy air, to stomp on the frozen puddles and lakes sending ripples of cracks zigzagging along the ice.
On my quest one sunny Sunday I join my son on his regular long (ie. very long for me) walk through the local nature reserve, across the fields to the local town. A new route for me as I’ve only taken the road there but trusting his navigational skills, I duly follow!
The nature reserve is a lush wood with a few smaller lakes and a central flat grass area with picnic tables dotted around. It is a hidden gem and luckily only twenty metres or so from our house. It has not always been a protected area of natural beauty however and until the 1960s it was a sand and gravel quarry – not too successful by all accounts as the American airforce considered the quality of the product inferior and was unable to use the gravel and sand from here when building the runway at the local airfield. After its closure the quarry became unflatteringly known as the ‘Pits’, the holes filled with water and some fish were introduced for anglers. It remained bleak and barren until adopted by the village in the 1980s and today it is managed to a high standard.
As I cross the level plain I glance again – after all is this snow or white sand? It’s deceptive in this play between light and shadow, my eyes blinded by the sunlight.
Again the mystery of light enhances my feelings of the mystical as I look into the woods, recalling the old-time sagas, remembering the Nordic myths…I almost expect to witness a troll staring back at me and after a pause, a shrug, continue on the walk, my disappointment palpable and real.
What is it about paths that just beckon to be explored? Where could they lead? There are so many to choose from, I want to veer off, investigate further but my son leads the way and dutifully I follow, musing. Paths. Like the ones out here in the wilderness (of sorts!), life offers up many diverse paths, opportunities and various factors determine which ones we choose to follow, which ones we perhaps return to at a later date, which ones…I realise I’m dawdling and hurry to catch up, my reflections forgotten, as I carefully traverse the rough ground.
Frozen in time the leaves, solid in their white coats, catch my eye, their gold, amber and brown colours cloaked in frosty layers. Striking in their unusual state it will not be long before the warmer air frees them from their enhanced beauty and as the soil turns to mud they’ll gradually mulch into the field, another state, another time.
The bridge, at times flooded from the troubled waters of the stream flowing beneath it, is a safe crossing for us this time and the tractor’s tracks of upturned mud are frozen into solid peaks and troughs. I step gingerly in between them.
The pools of water are scattered across the plain, their surfaces covered with fragile thin layers of ice, like the veneer we often display to others, the false confidence, joy, certainty. Like the ice here, so easily shattered, transitory.
Good fun memories flow come to mind; of my toddler son jumping with glee on the ice, winter suit wet and muddied, of stick battles with the frozen puddles, swishing huge pieces of two inch thick slabs of ice across the slippery grass, an alternative version to ice-hockey. Memories so much a part of us, part of our past and our present and even our future.
Content, exhausted, refreshed I return home…like the child of the early morning I long for a hot chocolate and biscuit break – the only difference is now I’ll be making them!
‘I was sorry to hear my name mentioned as one of the great authors because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I am not feeling very well myself.’ Mark Twain