January a month of Saints , Trees and Weather
Walking through January woodland seems to me to be an initially colourless and possibly doleful undertaking. Even in the unusually mild weather of 2019, the trees seem like unlit lanterns. Their dark and motionless branches stand out against static grey skies, while the earth sucks at plunging wellington boots, before they are let go with a slight sticky pop, releasing a smell of stagnant decaying leaves and branches. Its easy to make out knotty faces peering out from the twisted growth of trunks and bark.
January is a predictive month in folk lore. On St Paul’s day (25th) what ever wind prevails that day will rule all year. Its commonly said that if January is too warm then all the following months will be out of season. Expect cold summers and unseasonable frosts.
‘Say to the court it glows and shines like rotten wood,’ Sir Walter Raleigh wrote memorably shortly before his death and plodding around this month its easy to agree with him. His poem, The Lie, seems to perfectly sum up the UKs political reality and the world plunged into a despondent media state of bonkers leadership, returning to work, commuting, taxes, dieting, exercising and generally singing a puritanical dirge after a glorious Christmas carol of feasting and revelry. January can give the impression that all fun is sucked out of it. There it goes, swirling away down a plug hole of too much reality.
Yet and yet, in these circumstances I find it better not to look at the bigger picture. In fact abandon the bigger picture that has too many artists painting away with black brushes. Lets look again at those empty, doused trees.
In the mild weather this year, they are alive with birds who are foraging for insects under the bark. In a corner of my garden a robin is checking out suitable nesting spaces. Stepping closer to the trees, examine the bark. A silver birch has created a pattern so beautiful, it looks like a contour map of an imagined land. An oak harbours luminous lichen and moss spotlights the old tree with highlighter dabs of neon, lime green, sage green and all fluorescent shades between. In contrast, rosehips are still available, bursting with vibrant shades of red, patterning the dark green evergreens of yew, laurels with sharp shots of colour,
On the woodland floor, small sharp blades are bursting up through a dense covering of fallen leaves. Here come the bluebells, the snowdrops and lesser celandines. Old man’s beard flows through hedges and woodland, forming aerial pathways for small creatures to cross. Soon it will be time to wake up the old apple orchards with Wassail and song. A reminder that apple blossoms, fruits and cider are on their way.
I am planning to be on the Hereford border for Wassail this year and traditional cold weather is predicted. Perhaps this means a true good summer, full of fruit and flowers
Here’s to thee old Apple Tree
Whence Thou may’st bud, and whence Thou may’st blow
And whence Thou may bear apples enow
Hats full, caps full, bushel, bushel sacks full
and my pockets full too.
All Hail - Wassail.