By Dr Susie Curtin.
The year is drawing swiftly to an end as we approach the winter solstice. The North Pole has reached its maximum tilt away from the sun and soon the days will be lengthening. Just the very thought of this warms my heart, as although I love the winter, the shortened days and shrinking daylight makes it feel as though nature is stealing precious time.
This year, the transition from a mild autumn to a harsh winter has come very swiftly with a swathe of artic air descending upon Dorset, dropping the temperatures to as low as minus seven. The sub–freezing cold has lasted for over a week now. Day after day the ice in my pond thickens and my garden plants that were once flowering have shriveled and melted to a brown pulp and have sadly flopped onto the ‘perma-frosted’ ground beneath them. And yet, despite this pervasive coldness, everything is starkingly beautiful covered in an ice blanket of diamond dust.
It’s Friday evening and the temperature outside is falling rapidly. My son and I, having feasted on winter fare, want to walk off the cobwebs of the day spent behind our desks. So, donned in as many warm, downy layers we can wear, we head off out of town to witness nature’s artwork.
Away from the yellow town lights, along the track, the night cold bites harder. We have to quicken our pace to warm our hands and feet, and it is not long before we are away from civilisation amid the exquisite designs of Jack Frost where every leaf, tree and stone are etched in white, and where seed heads are frozen in time beneath their icy covers.
As we approach the River Stour, we step through ribbons of thick fog. Were it not for the unique beauty of these ice clouds, it might have been quite disorientating, but I don’t ever remember seeing this track look so magical. The ground beneath our feet looks like a universe of fallen stars. The ordinary has turned into the extraordinary.
In the distance, we hear the hollow, eerie sound of a tawny owl calling out his territory. But other than that, there is utter stillness beyond the occasional bleating of sheep and the rustle of bank voles disturbing the crisp leaves that line their runs. Beyond the river, fingers of frozen fog hug the ground like phantoms, occasionally dissipating long enough for us to behold the heavens.
Jupiter is in the South tonight and is shining bigger and brighter than any of the stars. Then to the north-east, Mars is a shimmering red, while Orion is low on the horizon – it’s belt as distinctive to the eye as the Southern Cross. In between them hang the familiar constellations of Pleiades, Perseus and the Plough, and there is a feint rendition of the Milky Way rolling above our heads.
Just half a mile later, the fog has reclaimed the sky and trees loom suddenly large as they emerge in the white gloom. Walking without torches, we chat through this magical, changing landscape. Talking heart to heart about life, the universe and everything until eventually our walk draws to a close. Once home, our trip to Narnia feels like a dream, and yet, as we huddle by the log fire, the beauty of tonight will remain as etched in our memories as the ice on the holly leaves.
Dr Susie Curtin (email email@example.com)