Jan 09 2017

January Days

Christmas floated into the New Year on a white cloud. Crisp sparkling hills rose eerily above an ethereal mist that hung over the river filling the valley. Shadows grew long in a winter sun, so low in the sky, it seemed to struggle to see over the brow. By mid-day a golden orb was sinking below the top fields leaving us to await an early dusk.

A perfect frozen spider’s web greeted Millie and I as we set out to feed restless donkeys extra hay in the yard.

And each day we take what we can from the freezing vegetable garden to the incarcerated chickens. These free range ladies are not used to being confined to barracks but, confined they must be by law, until the Chief Veterinary Officer gives the all clear from the dangers of Avian ‘Flu. A new timer keeps them in artificial daylight to cheer them in these short dark winter days, as they remain in their shed week after week. We are fortunate to have a very big space for them but despite all our efforts they have stopped laying altogether at present. They crowd me as I go in; one even made a break for freedom yesterday but I caught her and explained she must stay inside with her companions till we get the all clear. At present we are told that is another six weeks away at least, poor little birds!

Work done, Millie and I moved on from the yard, grass crunching under foot and paw as we crossed the crisp fields and climbed the hill to count the ewes.

We found them grazing quietly in the frozen landscape; tough Dartmoor girls bred for so much worse than this. It won’t be long before our first lambs arrive. Already I hear tiny cries across the fields on our neighbour’s land. Little black lambs with huge dark ears, so different to our Whiteface Dartmoor babies, call to their mothers in the mist.

The garden is asleep too, or almost. On New Year’s Day I found the first snowdrop pushing up among dead leaves, a tiny white spike reminding me that spring will arrive if only I can be patient.

The little pink and white flowers of a camellia sasanqua somehow defy the frost and the beautiful browned heads of hydrangea pulmatum stand majestically in the shadowy light.

The coloured stems of dogwood give a splash of winter colour by the stream and water droplets twinkle on acer branches in the low sunlight.

Gradually the days get a little longer, darkness falls a little later day by day. I go through my packets of seeds, line them up ready for planting. I clean out the old propagator glued together all those years ago after the flood. I buy seed compost and put it in the potting shed. I rake up leaves, stare at the rose bushes waiting to be moved, check the geraniums still flowering valiantly in the greenhouse, water cuttings begging them to stay alive till spring. I tell myself to wait.

A carpet of apples still lies in the orchard. I should, of course, have gathered more in the autumn but in these cold January days they prove a wonderful source of food for the wild birds. The dogs love them too. I do have a big bucket of huge green apples in the kitchen awaiting attention and of course the Seville oranges have just arrived. So I can curb my gardening impatience by making marmalade and wonderful sparkly apple jelly!

Oh and now snow is forecast for the weekend!


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