Almanac: Winter frosts, finding shadows and the missing trees

A frosty cold morning, one Sunday in January. On days like this it is best to get outside quickly, before the sun has a chance to melt the crispness away.

The frost creates beauty wherever it falls. We encourage the children to listen to the crunch underfoot. This is rare and a special part of winter, especially in a warmer-then-usual season such as we have seen this year.

We follow a path through the trees and towards the rocky outcrops. After a steep climb, we crest the hill and immediately notice a large, startling patch of bright light, where we expected to see shady canopy.

We look down at our feet, at the remains of the hundreds of Scots pine and larch trees that had been here only a week before. These trees have been here all of my life, I know them so well. It is as disconcerting as a house suddenly vanishing from our street.

We look out at the newly cleared view over to the much younger Jubilee Woods – which we have never seen from this height before – and the green fields stretching out before us. Even in the depths of winter, there is so much greenness to our county.

A sign affixed to a muddy slope explains that the evergreen trees that had been commercially planted over 80 years ago are to be gradually removed, and native rowan, silver birch and oak trees will be reintroduced to this patch of woodland. I consider how the areas of natural deciduous forest are filled with light, allowing other plants to flourish and how dark and close this area had always felt.

The frost is melting as the sun rises higher in the sky, casting long shadows across our path. The mud is wet and slippy under our feet where the logging vehicles have churned up the ground. It is a bit tricky to traverse with a toddler in a carrier on my back!

Our 10 year old son, profoundly autistic, has paused in leading the way and seems completely engrossed in the forest floor. We realise he has discovered his shadow for the very first time. He runs, it follows. He walks, it slows too. We watch him jumping, to see if his shadow leaves the ground with him. It is completely delightful.

There is always time for tree climbing, even on cold days like today. My daughter copies her four older brothers, and whilst still on my back, starts grabbing the branches above us and trying to commence her first ever climb at around six foot up. Luckily, the carrier straps hold.

I ask the children to look up at the canopy, reminding them that spring is on the way and this spiderweb of branches will be covered in buds, blossom and then leaves again before we know it.

I pause to take a final look at the winter woodland. The lack of leaves helps to reveal the frond-like architecture that is hidden for most of the year. I love the space between the trees, how they seem to make room for each other. When our little one is in her eighties, the part of the forest that today is bare ground, will look like this once again.

For more stories from our local woodlands at the end of winter see:

Searching for bluebells – watching the seasons with children

Waiting for spring – stream walking the forest

Woodland on the cusp of spring

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