The long break really threw me off track and I felt like I was forever chasing my tail after that. After nearly 3 weeks of lounging, it was quite hard trying not to continue the holidays at work :-0. It was a shock to the system trying to settle back into the old routine. It was back to getting dressed in the dark, waiting for the bus in the dark with the wind chilling to the bone and coming home in the dark. The long, dark, cold days just made me want to go into hibernation, curled up like hedgehogs in a cosy pile of leaves. But then, seasons were what that kept the earth going, as they marked and celebrated the year. So darkness and chill during January were really how things should be.
Feeling a little blue in January is normal
On the way to work, I came across quite a few breakdowns. According to the AA, the first working day in January was traditionally the busiest day of the year for breakdowns. Flat batteries were the main culprits because many cars were left idle for up to a fortnight in cold conditions which caused the power output of the battery to drop. Batteries can be dead at any time of the year but it was more likely in winter when cold temperatures hit the batteries with a triple whammy. The power output dropped, the ability to accept a charge also dropped and load increased due to lights, wipers, heated seats being used more. Not a good start to the new year.
During my lunch break, unless it was raining, I went out for a walk to get away from the stuffiness of the office. Walking across the frosted grass that crunched with every footfall was a heady pleasure. It was freezing as the false sun brought no warmth with its bright glow. Up in the north, there had been snow, but here in the Midlands, we’d lots of heavy rain, then hard frosts and then high winds. It was a real mixed bag. Except for the white stuff. Where were they? We’d received yellow warnings for snow since Xmas but it never materialised. There were a few wintry showers, but I want proper white stuff that stick to the ground and doesn’t disappear in an hour. But, I think there was still time, fingers-crossed.
After a very slow start at work, I was looking forward to the weekend to recover. We made a few trips to our favourite playground. We heard that the migrants were beginning to trickle in. There were sightings of the Bittern which we were looking forward to see. But not today. The pair of Golden Eyes were back and the drake looking very pristine with his shiny, green head, bright yellow eyes and white face patch. Nearby, a pair of Pochards were having a snooze. Cormorants were busy drying themselves out, perching on the posts with their wings spread out. I was hoping to see the fox that Babe had spotted a few days ago, but he didn’t receive the memo.
At East Marsh Hide, we enjoyed watching the Mute Swans having a bath. They were really splashing about in the icy lake. There were also plenty of whistling Teals, surface-feeding Mallards, diving Tufted ducks and also a single Shelduck. I wanted to check out Carlton Hide because Babe had been very fortunate to see a pair of the Kingfishers fishing by the pole. It was good to see them back at this pool. As we were slowly turning into icicles, we decided to walk back to the car. Along the path, we were harassed by the Robins, begging for food. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to bring the mealworms. We also spotted cowslips flowering on the banks. A bit early, we thought.
We walked back through the forest. It was lovely seeing the forest exposed and uncovered as it showed its structure and form through bare branches dusted with frost, accented against the low winter sun. It felt different walking through on such a cold day, looking at features that was concealed by the thick foliage in summer. The volunteers had been busy again and clearing a lot of trees and bushes. Removing these had opened up the canopy, allowing light to filter in, creating a dappled shade which might result in an explosion of bracken and brambles. They’d to be careful because felling trees might result in a loss in the diversity of species which can’t be recovered and the soil exposed and prone to erosion.
Through bare trees
I can see all the rickety lean-tos
and sheds, and the outhouse
with the crescent moon on the door,
once modestly covered in
Through bare trees
I can watch the hawk
perched on a distant branch,
black silhouetted wings
shaking feathers and snow,
and so can its prey.
Through bare trees
I can be winter’s innocence,
the thin and reaching limbs
of a beggar, longing to touch
but the hem of the sun.
~Lisa Lindsay, Bare Trees~
Behind the visitor centre, Babe spotted a flock of Goldfinches, Siskins and Redpolls having a feast, The very small, greenish-yellow Siskin were feeding in the conifers extracting tiny food items from tight spaces using their sharp beaks. They were very acrobatic as they fed at the tops of the birches and alders. The streaky little brown Redpolls were also in the party with their buzzing notes and musical whistles. Babe managed to take this beautiful photograph of the birds feeding on the ground.
“They fed wholly on the alder and looked beautiful, hanging like little parrots, picking at the drooping seeds of that tree”
We also attended a Wassailing event at the reserve. Wassailing was the traditional blessing of next year’s apple harvest, a ceremony dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. Coming from the Anglo-Saxon phrase ‘wes hal’ meaning good health, the wassail was said to banish winter blues and usher in spring. Historically, it took place on the Old Twelfth Night of Christmas . It was all about awaking the apple trees and scaring away evil spirits (worms and maggots) to ensure a good harvest of fruit for the autumn.
“Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a plum and many a peare
for more or lesse fruits they will bring
as you give them wassailing
The Wassailing events were often associated with Morris dancing sides which was a bonus because I enjoyed watching them. We left the casa quite early and was surprised to see cars parked along the entrance. Oh dear, we drove in and out again to find a parking space. I didn’t know it was going to be this popular. Anyway, last year was a wash-out because it was raining heavily. As soon as we arrived, Greenman and family who was there earlier than us came over and we’d a little chat while enjoying the performances.
There were 6 sides and unfortunately their names weren’t listed anywhere. But one of them was the Coventry border Morris side Elephant Up A Pole which was based in Earlsdon. Their members blacked their faces up, wore rag coats and danced with a large stick. The traditions dated back to the Welsh borders where out-of-work agricultural labourers and miners wore costumes and blacking their face to disguise from their bosses as they danced for beer money or begging and busking during the winter months. And some even had pheasant feathers in their hair, to proudly proclaimed that they were poachers, too.
I am not against tradition or following any political correctness, but I think it was important that we stopped and started thinking about the repercussions of wearing black face paint. We don’t live in a world that was free from racist oppressions. When looking at these dancers, the first connection most people saw was the black face and perceived it as a racist act. Blacking up had always been used to parody black people and culture. Morris dancing, like any other traditions need to change and make itself relevant. These dancers now were no longer labourers and they perform for fun and charity. Tradition was only in danger of dying out if we treated it like a fossil that was too brittle to evolve. Morris dancing and dancers won’t disappear if they don’t paint their face. Anyway, not all the sides have their faces painted. Who knows with this minor change, Morris dancing will be embraced by all ethnicities.
Morris dancing had plenty of defenders, among them the poet John Hegley, who described himself as a ‘torchbearer’ or ‘stick-beare’ for the tradition. It was known during Shakespeare’s time as it was documented by the exploits of Globe Theatre actor Will Kemp who Morris danced from London Norwich. For me, this will be the last time I will be watching the Morris dancers if they carried on dancing with black painted faces. It will be a shame because I enjoyed the quirkiness but …
We later drove to Draycote Waters to see if any newcomers had turned up. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any but these sailing club fleet training and racing through the lake kept us busy. Draycote Water was a 650 acre reservoir opened in 1969 and was by far the largest expanse of water in Warwickshire, The reservoir was filled by water that was pumped uphill from the River Leam at Eathorpe village and from a supply at Stanford Reservoir north of Rugby. During the weekends, the reservoir was always buzzing with boaters, windsurfers and yachters. And in summer, the fishermen will join the party.
“Sailing a boat calls for quick action, a blending of feeling with the wind and water as well as with the very heart and soul of the boat itself. sailing teachers alertness and courage, and gives in return a joyousness and peace that but a few sports afford”
~George Matthew Adams~
We walked along the embankment towards Farborough Bank and spotted the usual culprits. Great Crested Grebes in their winter colouring and Little Grebes were enjoying the afternoon sun. Large groups of Coots were congregating quite close to the bank. We enjoyed watching them pattering noisily over the water before taking off. Wagtails were flying in and out of the rocks with their looping flight and rapid twittering. And we were lucky to have seen the wren again. It was hopping and darting from underneath the nooks and crannies and then it disappeared. By this time, the winds were really blasting away and the tips of our noses felt as though they were about to drop off. It was time to head home.
We also made a trip to Slimbridge WWT but had to turn back at the Warwick interchange because our car was not running smoothly. Oh…oh. It was quite scary because the car kept on misfiring and stopping especially at roundabouts. At home, Babe tinkered around and decided that it needed to be checked out by the garage. The worst thing was that it just had its MOT done and we’d paid the car tax. Typical …
Meanwhile, on the feeders, the female Blackcap was busy feeding on the fat-balls. Babe had seen the male but I’d not seen it yet. The Robin was on the raised beds to see if it can pull any worms from the soil. The Wood pigeons were watching from the elderflower tree at the bottom of the garden while the House sparrows were peering from the hedges. Dunnocks, Blue and Great tits were taking turns on the seed trays while a Blackbird was happily tucking on one of the apples that I’d scattered on the ground. A pair of Collared doves waited patiently, perching on the fence, to join the party.
I spent the day pottering about in the garden. I planted the pink pampas grass by the fence and looked forward to see it flourishing and flowering. Imagine pink fluffy flowers. That will surely brighten up the neighbourhood. I did a bit of tidying, cleared the dead foliage, weeded and dug the soil in the raised beds. There were plenty of worms underneath it. I scattered home-made composts and fingers-crossed, these worms will do their magic. I couldn’t wait to start growing things again. Around me, there were signs of life. The fresh green shoot of the chives. bronze fennel and artichokes were pushing their way slowly through the soil. The bulbs too were poking out from their dark world. I couldn’t wait for these spring blooms.
Bare branches of each tree
on this chilly January morn
look so cold so forlorn.
Gray skies dip ever so low
left from yesterday’s storm.
Yet in the heart of each tree
waiting for each who wait to see
new life as warm sun and breeze will blow,
like magic, unlock springs sap to flow,
buds, new leaves, then blooms will grow.”
~Nelda Hartmann, January Morn~