As it is, I now realise just how special those early hardy little shoots are. That little patch of snowdrops I showed you was alone, quite alone on a sea of bare earth, creeping ivy and a few shriveled Autumn leaves.
Let’s fast forward maybe four weeks. This is what the garden and surrounding woodlands will look like after all the hundreds and thousands of local snowdrops have grown, pushing themselves forth through the chilly frozen earth. Our annual miracle.
February 2017. All the local snowdrops have arrived.
I’ve been enjoying a brilliant book, ‘The Moth Snowstorm’, by Michael McCarthy. Thanks Penny, for suggesting it.
It’s part nature writing, part memoire, part polemic, and a powerful and affecting read about McCarthy and his relationship with the natural world. A constant theme though, is ‘joy’.
The book first got under my skin when defining ‘joy’, which is perhaps summed up as a moment of true happiness, with a spiritual, selfless, outward looking dimension. McCarthy’s first experience of joy was as a boy, learning to love the landscape and wildlife of the Dee Estuary. Later, it was bluebell woods, chalkland streams … and so on. Most of his joyful moments happen when he’s alone and surrounded by the natural world: though he acknowledges that our children, our grandchildren also bring us moments of undiluted joy.
What in the natural world brings me joy? Nothing original.
The first snowdrops edging through the earth while winter is still bitter, dark and long.
Bluebells, with their sweet cool scent, apparently hovering in an unending hazy carpet across a woodland floor.
Lying in bed early, very early on a springtime morning, and hearing the very first bird as it calls out to orchestrate the morning concert which is the Dawn Chorus.
A rare sight in England now, but fields scarlet with swaying poppies.
Waves crashing on a beach, as a chilly wind whips sand across my face and into my eyes.
What brings joy to your soul?
Afterword: Some of you have asked to be reminded when BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ramblings’ series about the Nidderdale Way is being broadcast. The first of six programmes will be on air this Thursday, 18th May at 3.00. ‘Our’ episode will be the sixth and final one, on June 22nd. Podcast available.
Walking the Nidderdale Way is pretty damn’ joyous, actually.
I was out for a convalescent constitutional this afternoon: William had passed A Bug onto me last week, and I’ve been a little delicate. I hadn’t taken my camera with me, only my phone, so these images aren’t the finest. But I don’t care. They’re evidence that spring is on the way. I wish you could hear, as I could, the birds singing as they do only when they too know that short winter days have passed. Yes, spring is springing.
Step out into the garden, and the countryside beyond at the moment, and you’ll find snowdrops doing what they do best in January – piercing the barren earth, colonising grassy patches, nestling under trees and marching across gladed hillsides. Untroubled by unseasonal weather, their inner clocks direct them to grow, multiply, and cheer us all up in an otherwise gloomy, un-festive sort of month. That’s Nature for you: ordered, seasonal and predictable.
But Nature has another face. Come with me beyond the garden, past the fields slickly shimmering with surface water, to the banks of the River Ure. Just two minutes walk from here, it makes a wide sweeping curve away from its route from West Tanfield, and (normally) meanders gently into Ripon. That was before this winter, this rain, this unending water.
Once the rains came, and once it reached town, the River Ure rather wanted to swamp people’s gardens and make a bid to enter their houses. Recently-built flood defences put paid to that idea. The River Ure took its revenge on us, or more specifically, on the farmer whose fields adjoin us. Up in the hills, waters from streams and rivulets in the Dales cascaded into the Ure, which gushed and surged along its course, rising higher and higher, tearing at the banks, ingesting great clods of earth and forcing them downstream. The water levels are falling now. The damage remains.
Look. Here’s a chain link fence which marks a pathway running along the edge of the farmer’s field. It should be on terra firma, with a nice grassy margin between the fence itself and the river bank. Now it has nothing to hold onto. The bank has been snatched away, and the fence is hanging crazily and directly over the swelling waters below. The earth has slipped, and continues to slip. The farmer is losing his field, and the river is changing course. There’s not much anybody can do about it.
We’ll watch the water awhile, and frighten ourselves witless at the prospect of falling in and being swept mercilessly away. Then we’ll wander back though the woods, and enjoy the snowdrops and aconites once more. Nature takes its course.