The Strange, Lost Winter of 2015

I keep a look out for them every time I am in the forest. They’re a common enough sight, though not for me, and I spot them so rarely that every glimpse, however brief, now feels like an occasion, like something to celebrate.

And as is the way with these things, it’s always when you’re not looking for something that it comes to you. In the un-seasonal gloss of celandine foliage a flash of black, white and red sends my belly tumbling with delight.

A great spotted woodpecker.

It scurries around in the undergrowth for a moment, drilling for insects in the rotten stumps of fallen trees, then lifts into the air and bounces through the bare branches before settling on the trunk of a plane tree. I watch it as it clings to the bark like a rock climber on a cliff face. It skitters around searching for something and I wonder if it too is unsettled by the weather.

It’s December though it feels like April. Daffodils are in full bloom in the grass verges of the inner city. Joggers are padding over the grass in shorts and t-shirts. The skating rinks are melting. The celandines, though not in flower, have turned the ground a deep emerald green.

December. Celandines. I can’t seem to hold those two ideas in my mind simultaneously, it feels too implausible and the dissonance is almost dizzying.

If the woodpecker begins to drill a nest into the tree, I think, then I’ll know we’re in trouble.

But there is only a comforting silence as I wait.

No nesting. Not yet at least. Though I resist the urge to breathe a sigh of relief.

A few years back I’d scrunched across the grass here, the blades shattering like glass underfoot. The park benches were covered in tiny glistening shards of ice, as if they were sprouting beards, the sight of those icy growths so beautiful, I stopped to photograph them.

It’s not something you imagine you need, winter. Those bitter days when you breathe in frosted air so cold you feel it tickle the inside of your nose, are often days you find yourself daydreaming of spring and sunshine.

But if you come from the north the change of season is something so familiar, so deeply embedded within you, the loss of it is something you feel.

Perhaps it’s just a longing for something. A longing which makes spring feel so special when it arrives – something you have earned after a long cold winter. The turn of each season bringing with it its own particular delight.

And now?

It feels disorienting. Amid the green and the balmy temperatures I find myself thinking about snow, imagining ice. I watch the woodpecker burrow into the bark, prising out tiny insects. It is healthy looking, well-fed. Happy, if you can use such a word to describe a bird. Perhaps it is glad that winter is a way off yet. Maybe it is okay with the idea that the snow won’t arrive this year. It can hop from tree to tree and gorge on the unexpected abundance.

Is that how nature works, I wonder, as I watch it hop about – is it simply a matter of winners and losers?

For now the birds are well fed, an idea that should provide some comfort.

But as I stand there amid the trees, amid the winter green, I can’t help thinking we have lost.


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