The end of winter

Starlings seep and hiss from the chimneys. The sun is blinding, low in a blue sky, clouds just a white tinge at the horizon. We haven’t had rain for a while so the fallen leaves crisp as we walk. They are mostly a uniform dark brown now, clumping together in a soggy pulp in damp weather. Tree skeletons and holly leaves catch the sun. Cow parsley leaves push through the mulch. In the short cut that leads to the dene, a tree has been doctored, a cut branch now in logs beneath it. Rubbish has been cleared from around its base and the umbrella that has been there for years, filling up with leaves or snow through the seasons, is gone.

It is almost Candlemas. Another turn in the year, when the first fragile signs of spring appear. Usually I’m ready for the change, but this year winter has barely graced us with her presence. The old crone of the season has wrapped her furs around herself and decided to stay underground, occasionally sending out a few fingers of frost just to remind us she exists. I have hardly worn the warm coat I bought for the season. The frosts have been few and far between. Bulbs began sprouting in December and the birds have been calling loudly. Experts say we may have to say goodbye to winter as the climate warms, and the changing winter is already affecting wildlife.

A robin sings a delicate song. Blue tits chitter and flit between the trees. Two magpies clash over an old nest. A tree has fallen at the side of the bowling green. It is balanced on the fence, roots in the air and branches reaching for the green. The disarray of winter remains: shrivelled berries, ragged leaves, a handful of stinking Iris seeds in their pods. Somehow I had expected more signs of spring, given the lack of winter, but the spring flowers remain firmly beneath the soil and the trees are still naked.

The reeds are spun gold. Skinny fingers of willow drape the pond. It is full of activity. A flock of black-headed gulls roams between water and grass. Mobs of mallard drakes gather around the hens. A moorhen chases another, channelling water across the pond. The air is full of the gentle quacking of the ducks and the low cries of the gulls. People and dogs wander the paths and feed the birds. This is not a winter’s day as we know it.

A few days after Candlemas, winter pays a visit. The old crone whips up a storm of freezing wind, rain and sleet. But it all seems too little too late. In just a few days, signs of spring have appeared. A single pink cyclamen flower brightens the rubble of a wall collapsed by Storm Arwen. Crocuses sprout like small cups of honey and I see my first daffodil. I can’t be sad that spring has arrived, but I am sad for the season lost.

By late February there have been five named storms. Some unlucky areas suffer flooding and power cuts, a few have snow, but there is no retreat from spring. We walk through the cemetery at the tail end of Storm Franklin, the wind a soft roar through the trees. The grounds are full of windfallen trees, large and small. Chaffinches hop among grounded branches. Magpies squabble high up in those still standing. But mostly the birds offer a muted soundscape, as though cowed by the wind.

The light swings between sunshine and gloom. Rain is in the air; later it will rain all night. I hunt for hibernating ladybirds. Since Bug Woman wrote that they like to huddle on grave stones I have looked for them. I’m delighted to find some harlequins huddled in a crease of stone and orange ladybirds tucked into weathered letters.

But here, spring means snowdrops. Enclosed by graves, blanketing the ground under the trees, sprouting in small clumps and shimmering rivers. There are a few purple and yellow crocuses, but they can’t compete with the sheer volume of snowdrops. Luminous and almost transparent when the sun catches them, they are like pools of light. A stone angel boasts a bouquet, but snowdrops quietly adorn the home-made cross left for ‘Joe’. There is no doubt here that spring has arrived. There will be more storms to come. And more uncertainty. We wake the next morning to war in Europe and wonder, yet again, what the future will bring. All we can be certain of is that winter has ended and spring will always come.

106 thoughts on “The end of winter

  1. Sorry to hear that winter didn’t come this year Andrea. We’ve had many years like that, but this year winter is in full force. It’s wise to embrace the changes in season and climate while we rant and work for climate solutions. And take time to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.

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  2. It was good to see a new post from you, Andrea! It seems that spring has really arrived in your area of the world. I love the profusion of snowdrops in your photos. We’re in the midst of a snowstorm in New Hampshire, over half a foot and still falling.

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  3. Wow! Spring in February. Can’t say as I’ve ever seen where I live. Three inches of light, fluffy snow blanketed us overnight last night. At least we woke to a bright, blue sky that is melting it away.
    Enjoy your early spring and have a nice weekend.

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  4. Beautiful post and photos, Andrea.

    I had no idea about ladybirds (here, known as ladybugs) hibernating on headstones! I did know they tend to hunker under piled rocks, so maybe the gravestones are the next best thing.

    Perhaps our generation is meant to mark the swift changes borne on climate change, the adjustment of seasons to increasing ocean temperature. We have the memory of “the way it was” decades ago, and the ability to observe and record how that’s changing. Here, winters have shifted, starting and ending later. Projections are that there will be less snow and more rain in decades to come, rather like you’re experiencing.

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  5. You write so beautifully, Andrea. I can picture it all and sigh as, for me, in my neck of the woods, we won’t see any signs of spring for over a month, still under a pretty thick blanket of snow!

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  6. The seasons will always pass along their journey through the year; in different forms – as you well describe what appears to have been a mild winter where you live – perhaps, but there nonetheless, marking time no matter what humans do to themselves and each other. Here we are nearing the end of a summer that was slow to begin. The heat wave we have now is shrivelling the leaves of trees that never received enough rain to sustain them. Like your winter hiding underground, our summery sun appears to be blasting its full heat to turn the grass brown prematurely and to suck up what little water is left in the dams. We face another dry winter with dread and yet, this pales into insignificance when placed next to the current political events that are unfolding to the north of us.

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  7. Your prose-poems do not need photos to invoke vivid images, moving and still, of the moment or an entire season. And yet the photographs you choose to illustrate the narrative are equally powerful. The search for winter’s favourite flora has taken you to unfrequented crevices with enlightening outcomes.

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  8. Andrea this was amazing. I’m always in awe of your details (those skinny willow fingers!) but this captures the wild swings of the season and the times so beautifully. As long as you can still find ladybirds cached in crannies, there’s hope somewhere. We are always much farther behind in our flowers here, but I won’t be surprised to see snowdrops in a week or two. What they’ve done with Joe’s cross is wonderful!

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  9. Totally agree with your sentiments. The recent flurry of named storms aside, the Winter has been the mildest that I can recall for a long time. The liminal boundary in the transition of the seasons, particularly the coming of spring, is a magical time. As much as we dread the coming of winter, long may we continue to rejoice the variety of the seasons.

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  10. This is so beautifully written–evocative and poetic. I don’t write much about nature but appreciate the rhythm of the seasons, the metaphor of change and renewal. In Massachusetts our winter vacillated between 9 degrees one day 40 the next then 65 then back to 25. Not a lot of snow but when it came it dumped, then soon melted. The late Febbruary sunshine looks different than the December low light. And this brings comfort as the days grow longer giving me more lightness in other dimensions as well.

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  11. Thank you, Andrea. It is so strange to know things must be addressed yet have no real way to address them. Like you, I take refuge in the moment and do what I am able. Still, I grieve for so much, including shrinking winter.

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  12. These fine photos and the emotion they evoked in you have me looking outdoors to signs of the trees around and about straightening and freshening themselves in anticipation of spring! I too feel the sunshine in the fine air. πŸ™‚

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  13. Yes, it’s certainly been an exceptionally mild winter here in Wales too, as well as a much drier one than usual. It’s been pleasant not being up to our knees in mud – even the recent storms have been mostly windy rather than wet – but, like you, I do worry about the effects of climate change on the plants and wildlife. Beautiful descriptions, Andrea.

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  14. You could be writing about my neck of the woods, Andrea! Your words paint vivid pictures in my mind evoking memories of recent walks, the only part missing is discovering where ladybug’s hibernate (one day I’ll have to post a story about the ladybug we rescued from a head of organic lettuce and how we raised it!).
    Last Friday, thoughts of war sent me on a long city walk up to our local art gallery to gaze upon the pages of four Shakespeare folios with a stop at a tiny chocolate shop…everyday freedoms under threat in Europe…on my walk I passed many worried faces speaking in languages not familiar to me but their fear and pain were palpable. I hope the coming spring brings hope to us all…

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  15. Sounds like a lot of what it’s been like here in Colorado, Andrea. Winter mostly mild with some fluctuating extremes of temperatures and snow. Changes from sub-zero to next week 50+ degrees. Because I live in the mountains, here in the US, spring arrives later and typically we have a shorter summer. Our in-between seasons are longer — fall and spring — before the actual season arrives. But even that is blurred and not typically normal anymore.

    Just enjoying each day as it comes — it’s a gift and a surprise sometimes. Changing all the time. Take care, my friend, at your end of the world. It looks beautiful there.

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  16. Lovely, poignant reflections, Andrea, artfully balanced between the beauty and hope of early spring blooms, life finding safe shelter in carvings on a weathered gravestone, all still present in a world where renewed life is blossoming despite war.

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  17. How lovely are the blankets of snowdrops! And the sweet little ladybirds/bugs (in U.S.), the flower-bearing angel. Winter still looks like winter by you in most ways, but looking at the ground …!
    The weather has been so strange, but as always, love walking through your area with you. We can only hope that along with spring will be an end to this war.

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  18. As much as winter is challenging for me, I’m with you. Each season is so important to the Earth, and to the land where we live. In New England, this winter has been tough with some really frigid temps and lots of snow and ice. No flowers in sight for us for another month, at least. But your post gives me hope. And we all need a lot of hope right now as the world seethes with those who think that war is imperative for “power.” And ahh, how most of us know that real power is in the Earth through the seasons. May those of us who wish for peace have enough Earth power in our hearts and souls to make a difference.

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  19. Andrea, it is sad to see the stark diferences in the season and winter is now a season of grey with the odd sparkles of light golden sunlight. I love your descriptions of your winter this year and particularly the personifcation of winter itself: ‘The old crone of the season has wrapped her furs around herself and decided to stay underground, occasionally sending out a few fingers of frost just to remind us she exists.’ I hope you fared well in the storms … falling rapildy behind one another I forgot which name was relevant at any one time! It is a tragic surreal new era for Europe – the tragedy wrought by one person in just a week beggars belief … so we acknowledge, feel the pain then for our own sanity enjoy the beauty of the snowdrops, spy the buds of Spring upon the lilac. Take care x

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  20. This post brings me hope πŸ™‚ Wonderful photographs, Andrea. The lighting in some of them (especially the ones of the statue and ladybugs), carry a bit more warmth and a spring-like feel. I suppose it is the excitement, newness, and hope that I look forward to spring ~ and these days, such feelings are more important. Wishing you a wonderful weekend.

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  21. Hello, Andrea. It’s nice to see you out and about; was Winston with you? I bet he was. Reading your wonderful post made me think of a Wyrley Bonk word used to describe a sauntering walk. That word is modge. My Dad always used to use it. “I’m going for a modge about” he’d say. I love modging about, seeing things and taking note. Thanks for posting, Andrea. Take care.

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  22. Birdsong! I’ve been so enjoying the orchestra outside my window. Birds of all types having a go at waking me up:). Don’t even mind–just so happy to see spring! Lovely snowdrops in your pics–can’t wait until all the brown becomes green again. It’s time.

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  23. A strange winter for us in Southwest Virginia, USA, as if a warming climate (young mermaid?) were sparring with the old crone. November was cold, December very warm, January and February “real” winter with snowstorms. Now the cold lingers, though it’s sunny, with chill winds smacking our hopes around. And so we must adapt, as do the birds and plants and insects seem to be doing. Are the ladybirds what we call ladybugs? I’ve already had one in the house.

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  24. You have the eye of a creative, and the words to make visions come alive. It is always a pleasure, taking a walk with you. Keep sharing your thoughts. The world needs writers like you. Simply brilliant writing!

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  25. I love to read and view your season blog posts! Your seasons are beautiful, and you share them so well. We have spring in Arizona, too, but of course it might look more like your summer! Lovely writing as always, Andrea.

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  26. Arrgh…… Reading your words was like taking a breath of fresh air in the forest.. As they rippled and soothed as the birds chirped and Magpies squabbles while Bugs huddled… And snowdrops blossomed..
    Just beautiful..
    Well Andrea, we have had our taste of Spring with higher than normal temps here in the UK.. πŸ™‚ Now this evening we have a snow storm.. Go figure our Winter/Spring is all mixed up and as confused as we are.
    πŸ™‚ Loved all of your photos.. such a delightful post Andrea, thank you for taking me on the journey with you. ❀ Love it.. πŸ™‚ ❀

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  27. As always, you pen such beautiful words, descriptive of the path you walk and all that grows and is around you. This is lovely and gives insight, as though I am there, into your changing Seasons there. We’re into Spring here…finally…and I am loving the return of more birds and the budding of trees and foliage. One of my favorite Seasons as it holds more warmth and with age I do, indeed, require more.

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