Monday, 9 January 2012

Looking for Spring

Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flower of grass
What we below could not - Winter pass.

Thaw, by Edward Thomas

Spring is coming. From now on I will be searching for it every time I step outside. Every morsel of spring I find helps to get me through what can sometimes be a slightly grim time up here in Scotland. At its darkest, the sun doesn't rise here until nearly 9am, and sets again soon after 3.30pm.Yes I know I ought to be able to appreciate every season, every weather - but short, dark days and long, cold nights can be hard to bear if you're desperate to get out and grow things.

When I was thinking about writing this I decided to look up the actual definition of Spring, only to find that there isn't one - or to be more precise, there are many,  and most are extremely vague. Meteorologically it's the three months between the three coldest and the three hottest months of the year. In the dictionary it's the time when plants start to grow again after their winter dormancy. But I'm with Edward Thomas - it's the time when at least some of our birds' fancies turn to thoughts of love.

Now we are past the winter solstice we gain a precious minute or two of light every day, more if it's sunny. As if to celebrate, great tits start establishing their breeding territories almost as soon as the days start to lengthen - although they won't begin egg laying until well into April. So now when I go out I listen for their clear, bright 'teacher-teacher' songs piping above me. The sound seems to carry much further than it does later in the year, through the bare branches of the birches and willows, or maybe it's just seems clearer because there aren't many other birds joining in yet.

Rooks, as Thomas observed, are even further ahead. Having paired up during the autumn they are already nest building, so that their young will be born in early spring, before the ground gets too dry for the parents to get at the soil invertebrates that form the chicks' staple diet. Every time I go into Dunblane now I'll be looking out for the first builders flying across the road to the rookery by the A9, beaks grasping impossibly large twigs and branches like overambitious weightlifters.

So I too will be watching winter pass. So far we have had a very mild time of it - though I can still see snow freckling the hills behind the village. But whatever the weather throws at us now there are some signs of spring that won't go away.

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