This winter, we have been enjoying unseasonably mild weather. I’m not sure if severe winters dye the memory with a deeper shade of pale because of their rarity, or if it’s a case of the cold seeping insidiously into the marrow through permeable bone and lodging there, a ready ally – a fifth column – for the northerly and easterly winds which carry threatening messages from colder, less temperate regions. Exceptionally hot or extensive periods of rain-free weather can also be filed in the memory, but because they are more appropriate to the season they don’t seem to be quite as memorable as the unusual weather that we experience out of the due season and which confounds our expectations. If the climate continues to change as some predict, we shall, perhaps, become more accustomed to unusual meteorological conditions, and the atypical will turn into the typical. However, there’s still time for a cold, transformative blast.
A few days ago, a clear sky and a chilled evening air gave a teasing suggestion of what was to come – at least for one night. As it does at this time of the year, the sky seemed suddenly to change from light to dark and became arrayed with stars, like those that inspired van Gogh. Among the familiar inhabitants and occasional visitors, were Orion, slumbering after a day’s hunting, and a star-bright Jupiter.
For a few days, the Moon had been an early riser, emerging large and bold into the broad daylight. Tired of waxing and waning, taking a brief break from the constant bulimic cycle, it was at its fullest and fattest; it rested, its belt at its loosest, a few inches above the hills to the west, later to be caught bathing in a milky luminescence.
The result of spending some time gazing entranced at the star-filled heavens was a reminder of an awesome infinity. I slept fitfully until about 4 a.m., when I awoke and found that the fickle Moon had moved on, resuming its cruising course, picking up a tide here and capriciously directing the actions of some poor lunatic there. Thankfully, a transcendent morning delivered a welcome relief from such nocturnal fancies, and the prospects of the day ahead, after a cup of coffee and a beautiful sunrise, could be faced with renewed calmness and composure.
The carroty Sun rose into a sky suffused a few degrees above the eastern horizon with red and orange, these colours spreading with a diminishing concentration into a dilution of blue-grey over the rest of the dome. The proverbial warning to shepherds would prove to be a false alarm. The Sun was unashamed to be seen in unseasonable nakedness, though there slowly grew a scolding scruple that piqued a conscience; later, by mid morning, a layer of flimsy cloud spread a thin veil of modesty across the sky behind which the Sun concealed itself; but no tears were shed.
Denied a comfort blanket, an overnight frost, sharp and eager enough to nip cheeks and unprotected fingers, worked its furtive ministrations on a defenceless landscape. The ground, if not quite as hard as iron, was crisp. A force of nature had been abroad; one that could not be disobeyed.
In shallow depressions, the surface of the water contiguous with the cold atmosphere, at the interface between the elements, was frozen. The ice’s textured surfaces snatched at the slanting light deepening its solidity, although here and there were ovals of transparency revealing where unsuspecting bubbles of air had been trapped and acted like magnifying lenses. Puddles had been sealed with lids of ice. The inescapable fate befell these ice-glass covers: they were left shattered by the casual assaults of foot or wheel or by more considered acts of violence
At feeding stations in numberless gardens of various sizes, tuneless birds devoted all their energies to satisfying their daily nutritional needs, only distracted from their pressing task by occasional outbursts of petulance as an interloping squirrel muscled in to appropriate some portion of the charitable bounty, enjoyment of which the birds regarded as their exclusive prerogative.
This year seasonal clocks seemed to have been advanced, and flowers and animals have been cruelly deceived. There have been premature eruptions of daffodils and primroses; there were even some male frogs occupying the school’s pond before Christmas hoping to attract a mate with their purring croaks. Normally we wouldn’t expect to see them before January (they put in an appearance again a couple of weeks ago, though none of them seemed abashed by their understandable mistake or perturbed by any resultant frustration, frogs and toads notorious for their bravado in such circumstances – q.v. The Wind in the Willows, ‘…poop-poop!’).
The changing weather is one of the joys of living in a temperate region. With the right frame of mind – and an artist’s eye - there is, according to Ruskin, really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather
Just as I was putting this story to bed, I heard on the radio that stormy outbursts from the Sun have resulted in some extraordinary displays of the Aurora Borealis. Such has been the violence of the solar discharges and the extent of the torrent of charged plasma particles that have been launched in the direction of the Earth in a storm of solar radiation, that there’s a possibility that the Northern Lights’ influence in disturbing and exciting the Earth’s magnetic field could be seen in the south of England. Sadly, I don’t think that we shall see the displays this far south, but, on a clear, dark night, it might be worth a look northward.