Dark clods of earth, like sticky remnants of Christmas pudding,* form ragged ridges over deep, ice-filled ruts. What once were puddles, ruffled by angry winds, now double as skating rinks – for voles and weasels, mice and stoats.
A wintry, Midas of a sun reaches down and touches the ice. A myriad shimmering reflections turn to gold in the last few minutes of the dying day. Then the pudding crumbs and lemony ice turn back into a field, into work for the farmer, into food for the birds and beasts.
Way up in the cold, clear sky, a sickle of moon watches the sun subsiding. Waiting for her time to shine.
And way beneath her, driving along the meanygates, through the moss-land, I wonder. Why meanygate? Why moss? Why Ralph’s Wife’s Lane?
The moss-lands. Bogs. Some are protected – Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Some undesignated, at risk of drying out because of drainage, or irreparable damage thanks to peat cutting.
I once helped save a moss. Not in a pretty rural area, but in an unloved patch of land between noisy, dirty motorways. It was threatened with development for waste disposal – but it’s safe, for now, with its special plants and animals and insects. An unlikely haven in an unlikely place.
More rural, isolated mosses – isolated not by distance but by nature – still have their own traditions, or so I’ve heard. A history of hardship. Of livings wrested from that fickle friend, the land and, round here, its ruthless partner, the sea.
Meanygates, or narrow roads so-called, criss-cross one of our local areas of moss-land. Some would have it they were toll roads – ‘mean gates’, so-called because of the meanness of the landlords who extracted the tolls.
Others say the term relates to the farmers who were excused the tolls when taking produce to market. Yet others claim it’s simply a corruption of ‘main gates’ – I’m not sure anyone really knows.
Approaching the coast we drive down Ralph’s Wife’s Lane. Who was she, why a lane? Fodder for speculation – for fiction, even. But not for me. I just drive it, wonder, then forget about it until the next time.
Edging the coast, now, the marshes are black with standing water.
Small fowl rest afloat in patches not yet turned to ice. Their bottoms must be chilled, their poor feet numb. Or, perhaps not. They’re born for this, after all. Maybe they don’t feel the morbid cold – or not the way we do.
Along the coast road we drive, then up through the village. Christmas lights twinkle down the high street. In gardens, on hedges and in front room windows.
Back home, as evening tiptoes in, the sentinel trees stand silent and still, as they have all the day long. Inside, our own tree scents the air. Sheds a few needles as the heating warms up and the curtains are drawn.
The night draws in.
An almost mystical time of year, that’s how it feels tonight. A time of hibernation for the lucky ones. Of scarcity and harshness for others.
It’s a time of year I love, when the wind stops and the rain leaves us be, for a while. I love the dark days, the long nights. I love the frost, the skies, the moon journeying with the sun.
But, already nature’s had enough. Like those households who throw out the tree on Boxing Day, tired of a month long advent-cum-Christmas.
We choose the other way around. Just a few days into our tree, it’s still a joy each morning, afternoon and evening.
And now the lights are on and seasonal music playing. The bottle clinks as it’s taken from the fridge. A special wine with bubbles, to mark the end of a winter’s day, the start of a winter’s night.
Warm and snug. With a fish pie yet to come.
Out on the cold, dark, moss, the owl will be hunting those skating voles. The world lying dormant, hoarding its energy for spring.
Already the moon is waxing. And the new year’s wiping its feet on the doormat.
Tomorrow we’ll awake – all being well – to 2015.
So – here’s wishing you health, dear reader
and happiness and inner warmth – whatever your weather.
*Christmas pudding, my in-house American reminds me to tell north Americans, is not a creamy pud but a dark, rich, dried-fruit-stuffed, dense steamed heavy cake-like pud. Best served hot with brandy butter. Before long walks!