Born in February, my mother was a loyal advocate for the beauty of a lovely day in this month. It was, she insisted, not a grey, drab month at all, but full of the vitality of the cusp of spring. She was right.
Today was a holiday, and this constituted a 10-mile walk around the area of Watership Down. Even on an overcast day, beautiful vistas unfolded before us and colour was everywhere: both black and white sheep grazing the escarpment; hazel catkins making the hedgerows bob yellow; woodland in every shade of green, grey, brown and lilac.
We walked beyond the Down made famous by Richard Adams, and crested a hill topped by the remains of a hill fort. You could see forever, and the downs in the far distance were the kind of hazy blue that one hears of in story books, but never sees. There it was, an ethereal blue strip along the length of the horizon.
Snowdrops grew alongside roads and in small clumps in the woods. A series of red kites flew overhead, and in many fields, we saw brown hares lolloping magically about their business. The last woodland of the walk hung with green moss and saw trees bejewelled with silver lichen.
There was nothing grey about this February day.
What was also striking was the absence of other people. We greeted a few fellow walkers on the way to the hill fort. But once past it, we barely saw a soul, except for two cyclists, as we headed back to our cars. Six hours of walking (with a good pause for a pub lunch) had yielded just a handful of people.
What was everyone else doing? We had our theories. Mine tended towards indoor activity. I hear so often, ‘Oh I never go in my garden in the winter’. This being the case, it might spill over into not being anywhere outdoors. There are, of course, homes, shopping centres, cinemas and pubs to stay warm and pretend that the winter isn’t happening.
That is to avoid the great beauty of winter: the filigree of branches against the sky, the stillness that comes before growth, and today, the waterfall sound of skylarks ascending over the downs.
More than that, it is to miss seeing that winter is passing, and as a friend of mine said recently, ‘with grandmother’s footsteps, spring is on its way. You just don’t know when it’s going to arrive’.
It may snow up until Easter. There may be many genuinely grey days ahead. But I sniffed spring today in the winter landscape and it washed my soul.