For a day or two at the beginning of the year, a walk along a field edge or through a meadow was almost in total silence and obscurity. An impenetrable and all embracing fog enveloped our countryside. Such was the intensity of the silence that the least intrusion became noteworthy. A diminutive wren, almost unnoticed at any other time, exploring its own hedge-bottom world, seemed to almost explode with sound. The metallic “chink” of a blackbird’s call was a positive intrusion into such silent privacy. Even the great family of rooks that have lived almost since time began, I imagine (where else but at the Rookery?) were quite likely staying by their straggly precarious nests. The rough cart track along which I walked was lined with stemmy remains of last summer's cow parsley now transformed with frozen fog particles creating a delicate tracery. The tufty grass was similarly enhanced. The woodside was all but invisible and nothing stirred. As I made my way home again in the gathering dusk the loud call of a cock pheasant going to roost out of reach of a prowling fox broke the spell. The friendly shrouded shapes of our village houses came into focus, and once again nature had provided me with an occasion to remember.
With January behind us, a gardening and farming year is accelerating into activity, which in point of fact never actually stops. It just slows down for a few weeks. Already gardeners will be planting a few rows of early peas. In a cool greenhouse certain varieties of cabbage and cauliflower seeds sown in trays will provide some early vegetables and beat the arrival of the cabbage white butterfly as well! If you missed the opportunity to plant out Sweet Williams in the Autumn, varieties are available that, if sown now, will flower in May and provide a welcome splash of colour by a plain wall. On the farms, if the land is dry enough, low doses of nitrogen top-dressing will be applied to the oil seed rape. Hedges will be “bush whacked” which will probably leave a few raw scars that hopefully will be concealed when the surge of springtime growth will make the countryside about us predominately green again.