Almanac: A peaceful start to the new year, fallen branches and a priceless treasure

The seasons turn, a new year arrives.

My Christmas gift was a traveller’s journal which is why my story begins here. I carried it around in my backpack and to and fro between my desk and bedside table for weeks before beginning to use it. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part.

We were living solely on the last of our savings at the time, because of the pandemic stopping our work. Due to this our Christmas tree was created from fallen branches gathered from the local woodland. The scent of pine still filled the room, just as before, except this time there was also a meaningful, family story linked to our little “tree”. After New Year’s we used the foraged twigs to create a bug hotel in the nature corner of our garden.

This year we all want to do the same again, only more so. I am already looking out for where the holly grows in the little woodland so that we can decorate the door frames and bookshelves, and create a homemade wreath for the front door.

Adjusting our sleep/wake times meant that each morning we got to greet the dawn. I started to measure time in the early hours by watching the bright golden winter sunrise creep across the frosted glass of the window. Later, I would stop wearing a watch around the house altogether.

The birches kept their final leaves into late December, creating a rare beautiful effect during the golden hour at dusk each day. I can only see a small part of this tree from my desk window, so as soon as the sun dips low enough to shine through the branches, I know to take a walk towards the southern footpaths for the full view.

This moment at dusk, where I pause work and take a quick walk, starts to herald teatime because when I get back from the cold, the kettle goes on and soup is warmed on the hob. I am already re-aligning my days to the nature around me, although I am not consciously aware of it just yet.

By early January the fields become almost impassable, the little woodland equally so. As soon as the temperature drops and the sun clouds over, our boots can go three foot or more into the mud in places. It will be April before the fields are fully walkable again. As long as we keep close to the blackberry hedgerow in the top field, we can at least still enjoy the wide winter skies.

Here is my favourite photograph from Christmas and New Year 2020: When you are only two and a plastic emerald ring falls out of a cracker and you cannot believe that such a priceless token can be yours.

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Art Journal: Collecting wild seeds and finding inspiration

On an afternoon when it is too hot to be outdoors, I unroll some parcel paper on the table and set out our recently foraged seeds. Cloud parsley, milk thistle, clover, grasses and rose hips.

My little daughter can see that I have plants all over the table. She runs out to the garden and returns with a freshly harvested fuchsia flower.

“Away on a Breeze”

The feathery seeds are awaiting their first flight on the tiniest of air currents. Every time I breathe, they start to float out of frame. I carefully encourage them back into place. I hold my breathe. Time stops. Click.

My daughter returns from another garden visit and hands me two fallen hollyhock blossoms.

One of my younger boys runs through the kitchen singing. Grasses scatter across the table whilst milk thistles take to the air. He happily helps me catch them as they float towards the door, a practised skill from many hours spent chasing delicate storm bubbles in the garden.

“Gentle Partings”

The patter of footsteps. My daughter has found six faded rose petals and a handful of leaves.

Of everything in this wild harvest, the cloud parsley seeds are my favourite. I almost prefer them to the actual flower. I lift the sprig out of the diorama and study it in detail, turning it in my hands, before laying it back down carefully. The brittle stem makes a scratching sound against the thick paper.

“Be Free”

When I have completed my work, my daughter is still intrigued, standing on her tip toes to see.

I recreate her mouse doll in petals, using delicate little seeds as the eyes and lashes. She asks if her mouse can be a dancer, so we use the hollyhock petals as the skirt and give our ballerina a tiny fuchsia crown. Snipping a piece of the cloud parsley, we give the mouse a miniature flower stem of her own.

“At midnight, Mouse transforms into a Dancer”

We take a photograph together and safely store the seeds away to sow in our garden.*

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*We only gather a few common seed heads that have already fallen to the ground in the hedgerows near our home. Wildflowers in bloom should be left to go to seed so that they may return the following year. Please respect the wildflower laws wherever you live.