February has a reputation for being wet and gloomy. I long for it not be that way, and grasp at the lighter mornings and evenings. The sun does more than scrape itself off the horizon. The morning chorus of songbirds kicked off earlier in the season than I remember. I know it’s birds defending territory, but it is a gorgeous start to the day as first one bird, then others join in till you get a swelling joyful sound.
The days slowly lengthen, the sun creeps a little higher at noon and wider at dawn and dusk. The dark mornings have me slow to wake, the dark evenings tricksy - is it six or midnight? I drove my car one dark evening along a lane, came to water over the road. In the dark I didn't see how far the water was from the stream, and drove on. The water was over the headlights and I could see a flooded car and tractor beside the road - can't stop or the car will take in water. I made it to the humpback bridge, which is covered in water, can't turn round, maybe I'll make it across the next low bit of road. I set off, lights go under water, the car sighs to a halt. There is silence, then I hear the gurgling of water coming in through the doors. The windows don't work. Will I be able to get out? I open the door, water pours in almost to the top on the seat. I scramble into the boot to put my wellies on, get everything I can think of onto the roof, and climb onto it myself.
The dark time of year, dark mornings, night comes so early. When we have sun it seems very special, and with a thick enough coat and hat is a magical time, precious brightness, low light highlighting every bare twig and blade of grass. The earth feels like it is ruminating, digesting last year, brewing next year. The undergrowth disappears, leaving everyone’s tracks clearer. Tom & I were in the garden one late afternoon, and about 20 wild boar solemnly trooped by on the other side of the stream, a couple of sows, a few gilts, but mainly this year’s piglets. Boar, like the farmed pigs they are so closely related to, have large families. Tasty, but scary when you get too close. When we said we wanted more room for wildlife on farms, I’m not sure we meant this: be careful what you wish for, you will get it.
Leaves whirl off the trees, darkness comes early, the briefly lighter mornings darken too. The sun rises closer to the south, and at noon gets lower every day. A walk through the woods is a walk through lots of leaves, before they start breaking down to leaf litter. The last of the apples come off the trees, a rich cider smell rises, reproaching us for the apples we didn’t pick. I saw a robin, bold and curious, with that intensely sweet song, sitting on the wall in a watery gleam of sun, king in his own territory, now the noisy summer visitors have gone. The fallow deer finish their rut, that disembodied roaring, a challenge to other bucks, and I guess alluring to the comfortable groups of does waiting the outcome with complacency.
I pretend it’s not happening until autumn is right on top of us. The unstoppable, overwhelming green tide of growth turns round and meekly disappears into the ground. We get a fiery display as the leaves drain of green, going out in a blaze of glory. Let’s hope for more of the glowing light of September to give October that incandescent quality. The wet, cold summer gave extraordinary growth to cool country plants, and things that need warmth suffered. Less insects - the cows never got besieged with flies - meant all those insect-eating birds did not thrive. A friend said most of her first hatch of swallows died, the second hatch stayed late, hoping to fatten up on early autumn flies. They’ve gone now, and the skies are quiet. The difficult summer for insects seems to have made the wild boar niggly; so many slugs to eat would make anyone grumpy. A neighbour phoned, concerned that the wild boar were chasing the fallow deer.