Under clear blue skies, I head across the forest towards the Esk. It’s mid-morning. Ponies are standing broadside to the gorse brakes soaking in every bit of warmth as the sun slowly melts the sugar coating of frost on their feeding grounds. Some are lying so that the rays fall fully along their backs. Only a couple show any sign of hunger as they muzzle into still-whited grass. A carrion crow struts among them, looking for a meal of insects in the piles of fresh dung.
Nearing the water, I pick my way carefully down a steep slope with rivulets running on each side which seem to be flowing faster than I am making progress.
At dawn’s customary hour (7.30am) it was still night, and by nine the light looked only just post dawn. The whole marsh was suffused with a grey so fathomless it felt as if the colour continued in some granular form along the optic nerve to the brain. The mist softened the world’s shape, but I noticed as I went through the gate that the full line of willows had finally been rendered down by the past two months of achingly slow mild dullness to the stark bone of twig and branch. All foliage was gone.
How remarkable that even this drab December day just glanced off the goldfinches as if they were made from mercury. The bars of sunflower yellow across the wings sang out, but it was the flight calls that seemed brightest. They have a wind-blown quality, like flakes of gold metal held on threads, dangling and touching in a breeze.