Today I am confined to the house with a nasty cold, which is frustrating because it is not raining and, although cold, the sun is shining intermittently. I feel imprisoned. The best I can manage is to look out.
This is the season of far-seeing, the blessing of a deciduous landscape. Those countless obscuring leaves have fallen away, allowing the long view. There has been a fresh fall of snow on the mountains overnight. From the kitchen window the ground beyond the garden drops away steeply into the river valley, then rises again through hedged pastures, copses and eventually moorland before arriving at the white bulk of the Arenig, nearly 3000 feet at the summit. It dominates our horizon, constantly drawing the eye. I find it tempting to throw adjectives at it ‘brutal, impassive, aloof etc.’ but none of them stick. It is just there, immeasurable.
In the bottom of the valley two columns of listless blue smoke rise from bonfires; Gwyn Roberts is hedge laying and burning up the trimmings. A buzzard, harassed by a noisy crow, flies low over the house, tips sideways and slides into the valley, mewing loudly. Otherwise all is still – except that is in the immediate foreground, where we feed the birds. Here there is a frenzy of movement: finches, tits, and robins feeding as if their lives depend upon it, which is probably true. Three jays come bounding in with piratical confidence, searching for the seed I have scattered on the ground. Crows, on the other hand, are leery, always with one eye on the exit. Perhaps it is a bit of a confined space as the crow flies. Two magpies crash in scattering the 20-30 chaffinches. They are bolder than the crows despite being equally persecuted. The cast is topped off by a couple of squirrels and a hefty rabbit, known in the family as Jumbo, who regularly stokes up on birdseed.
Shifting to the other side of the house I can see along the edge of the lawn spears of yellow and purple crocuses that will prostrate themselves in the winter sunshine any day now. Yesterday I found the first flowering celandine in the garden, the earliest date over the last 15 years. Its traditional Welsh name is Llygad Ebrill, April’s Eye, which says something about the direction of travel of our climate. Despite these intimations of spring the garden, and countryside in general, looks soggy and neglected. It’s the time of year when you can see last year’s litter exposed on the roadsides. The lawn is shaggy and pock marked with holes. Before Christmas a telephone engineer left the gate open and out neighbour’s cattle got in, plunging into the soft ground with their great heavy feet. Nothing panics me quite like the sight of a cow lumbering past the kitchen window.
Between the crushing presence of the mountain and the circular inevitability of the seasons I feel insignificant. We come and go preoccupied with ‘the affairs of men’: politics, ideologies, economics and so on, meanwhile just outside the window Nature is unavoidably getting on with it; battered but unstoppable. Sometimes it’s a relief to feel this inconsequential. I do my bit, tread lightly on the Earth, otherwise perhaps all I can offer is to look out and say what I can see. At least that is how it feels today.