The cold comes in many colours. On what felt like a rare, cloudless morning, crouching beneath the unkempt, unspoiled hedgerows, the lingering frost painted the shadows a cleaner, crisper shade than that of the lethargic sheep – too hungry to clear my path, or be concerned at my intrusion. Elsewhere, the bright, verdant clumps of appetizing torn grass glistened with innumerable distilled jewels in the low sun: which cast the trees as dark prostrate giants reaching across the silent meadows, now littered with their singed green, gold and umber confetti.
A biting sou’wester gripped at my jaws, clenching my teeth until I turned my back against it – my cheeks the colour of the few scattered berries and hips. Out of the wind, sheltered by a recent copse, the flaxen light brought surprising warmth; and I soon removed my gloves. The cloudless sky still glowed pale steel-blue, though: a reminder of the morning’s insistent chill.
Returning to the grounds of Baddesley Clinton, from where my short walk had begun – the rhythmic hum of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro accompanying my every step – I found the birds also overly intent on foraging to mind my presence. A young, fluffed-out, almost spherical chaffinch pecked close to my mud-spattered boots beneath the pines, sorting through the spillikin needles. Above my head, a treecreeper scuttled shrew-like, spiralling upwards around the trunk, and then along the underside of a large branch: unaware that its characterful acrobatics effortlessly defied gravity. A robin preened itself just out of reach: a gleaming black eye permanently glowering at my impertinence; its traditional Christmas plumage matching my still-smarting face. In the leaf-littered tangle of branches at the pond's edge, a silhouette of a blackbird chuntered in impatience; the mallards taking up its call with short, fading, slowing cackles.
For a while, I was their only observer: until a moorhen, skittering paranoiacally over the water, alerted me to an unheard squirrel, checking and re-checking its scattered winter larders, bouncing ever closer, from remembered spot to remembered spot. Only then did more humans appear. So I retired to the comfort of another coffee: surrounded by the ceaseless chatter of my own kind; and thawed by the glorious flames of the wood-burning stove.