31 December – Leafy mockery

When the year is fading fast
and there’s little growth to see,
I’m not impressed to find
Hart’s Tongue sticking out at me.
It only highlights the largely bare soil
that reminds of all that’s been lost
to the seasons’ sorrowful turning
and the bitter biting frost.
Another day I’d laugh
to see its silly bleurgh
but not while I’m reflecting
on all I’ve left behind this year.
For I’m already tongue-tied,
groping for words and deeper meanings,
and am simply not in the mood for plants
that are so cavalier with others’ feelings.

31 December - Leafy mockery

30 December – Fluffed up

The wind chill has iced the air to several degrees below
and it takes an age to layer up before I dare to go
outside and brave the cold that pierces my thick coat
and the dense woollen scarf that’s woven round my throat.
I look at the tiny birds and shudder at their miniature forms
before I remember their fluffing up is the model for all my warm.
My down coat here and duvet at home mimic their heating system,
layering up feathers and body-warmed-air in eider-inspired wisdom.
I reappraise my view and imagine the birds looking back at me,
assessing my futile attempts to keep warm rather pitifully,
cosily inhabiting pom-pom poses of impressive winter adaptations,
and rolling their eyes at my insufficient, knock-off clothing contraptions.

30 December - Fluffed up

29 December – Jayded

Unlike the long tailed tits that happily bob along
or the blackbird that bursts into virtuosic song,
the jay rasps raw loathing, as if my very existence is wrong,
whenever I enter the holly wood.

I don’t know if it’s defending its last stash of berries
or if it just views all walkers as confirmed adversaries,
but certainly its greeting is the opposite of merry,
whenever I enter the holly wood.

But I won’t let the jay’s jaded squawks drive me off
as it blusters and blithers and loudly mocks.
Instead, I’ll remember it won’t leave the tree tops,
whenever I enter the holly wood.

29 December - Jayded

28 December – Hibernation exploration

Deep into the twelve days of Christmas,
but before New Year starts to beckon,
is the best time to try hibernation,
at least that is what I reckon.
When we’ve posted and given and shared,
and the feasting is feasted and done,
there’s just about time to curl tightly up
before life demands to be re-begun.
This is the time to imagine you’re a creature
such as a hedgehog or dormouse
snuggling down for continuous naps
inside a comfy, cosy house.
There’ll be plenty of time to explore the wild
during twelve months of fast coming year,
so just for now, let’s ignore all that wow,
and stay sleeping and snoozing right here.

28 December - Hibernation exploration

27 December – Chasing Narnia

There’s been no snow in the valley to whiten our Christmas,
but there on the tops, glistening bright in the distance,
a flurry of fine icing has been liberally spilled,
crafting impromptu Christmas cakes out of the hills.
It’s like it’s been arranged to lure me up to the heights
in search of ever elusive Narnian delights.
Whether planned or spontaneous, the results are the same,
I can’t beat Winter when it plays this kind of game.
I’ll have to respond by ascending to the drifts
to receive the promised crunch and swift spirit lifts
that hover on horizons where cloud and cover meet.
Yes, until I obey this summons, I’m doomed to itchy feet.
But for now I take another piece of Turkish delight,
mix up frothy hot chocolate, and everything’s all right.
There’s more than one way to re-live my favourite story –
though dwelling in White Witch world misapplies the allegory!

27 December - Chasing Narnia

26 December – Boxing Day walk

After a day celebrating inside with copious quantities of feasting,
it’s good to exchange crisp fresh air for the fug of central heating.
The paths and fields are full of similarly replete neighbours
walking off the excesses of yesterday’s fine, rich flavours;
enjoying clearing their heads and some gentle exercise
following the certain peril of indulging bigger-than-stomach eyes.
We catch up on each others’ Christmases, and who ate most roasts at lunch
before each completing our circuits, and returning to Boxing Day brunch!

25 December – On the first day of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my friend Sally received…
a cuckoo in a Gabonese tree!
She can see where he is, and track his odyssey…
on a website for ornithology.
He was here till July, when he left England behind…
to fly several thousand miles.
France, Spain, Mauritania, Senegal, Nigeria –
an impressive global traveller.
He flew alone that far with no compass and no map…
how on earth did he manage that?
Of all the migrations I’ve ever come across…
Sally’s sponsored cuckoo must come out top!

25 December - On the first day of Christmas

24 December – The watching

Watching for the star to shine the way again,
watching over sheep in the cold night rain,
watching for the silhouette of Bethlehem’s gate,
watching for dusk to dawn tomorrow’s date.

Riding across distant deserts to purposefully seek a King,
sitting out late on the hills, interrupted as angels sing,
labouring next to animals for the transformation of everything,
walking by the river, wondering what gift I can bring.

All the world caught up in backdrop to the story,
nothing too normal to be a stage set for glory,
nature tuned to prelude in prophetic preparatory
for one tiny infant to rewrite the whole of history.

23 December – Piped music

The branches are birdless,
I can see because they’re bare,
but still insistent birdsong
trills its trebles through the air.
I’m not in a theme park
with camouflaged speakers
but it still seems I must be hearing
pre-recorded cheepers.
Where are they hiding
in the dense twiggy hedges?
Why don’t they show themselves
and at least take the credit
for brightening the whitening
dreary of this day
with their constant concert
of first-class cabaret?

22 December – Fairy-tale feeling

Whenever I see a hole in a birch or beech or oak,
I just can’t help imagining miniature fairy folk.
I’m delighted animals and birds find shelter in wood,
but no matter how hard I try, it’s just simply no good,
they are never what I picture when I see potential homes
carved out of the middle of something that is grown.
I don’t think I’ll ever reach a ‘pragmatic’ age –
to mature past make-believe was not how I was made!

21 December – Winter solstice

This is the turning point,
light will soon seize the upper hand,
lengthening and strengthening
its daily winning stand.
Minutes more each day now
in a slow, quiet ticking gain,
inching us closer to warm
despite cold, bleak refrains.
But on this final darkening day,
Weather has joined the losing side,
shrouding the morning in dismal,
helping the southerning sun to hide.
If I didn’t know the science, or the date,
or the hope of all ahead,
I might be tempted by the gloom
to surrender to creeping dread.
But instead I fix on the promise of change
and chivvy myself to rally,
whatever my senses say,
Spring is about to start her tally.
In a few more weeks for sure now,
I will wake to morning light,
and my treasured late afternoons
will no longer belong to the night.

20 December – Spider-Bird

Now the trees are stripped back, it’s easier to see
the antics of Spider-Bird as he ascends trunks vertically.
I believe he has super powers to so conquer gravity
whatever experts conclude about the design of his feet.
I love to watch him spiral up, following his helical path,
as he forages for the bugs he resembles, hidden in the bark.
I’ll never tire of marvelling at his Herculean hops
or his sudden daredevil descents, when he abruptly stops.
I think he deserves a flashier suit, more befitting an action man,
but I suspect his very blending in is just part of his master plan
to dominate the creeping world by beating them all at their game,
which is perhaps also why he usually assumes a pedestrian name.
But I will not call him ‘Treecreeper’ as it so woefully understates
the brilliant thrill of wonder he miraculously creates.

19 December – Budget skiing

Other people can seek perfect powder at Val d’Isère
or hurtle down the Matterhorn in crisp Swiss alpine air.
But I don’t see the need to spend a fortune on the slopes,
no, slithering close to home is where I’m pinning all my hopes.
I won’t need to hire or buy any smart, specialist equipment
to experience the thrills of sliding and speeding fulfilment.
Instead, I’ll head for the muddy fields of glorious Nidderdale,
which, at this time of year, never disappoint or fail
to offer up the chance to chase a hazardous black run,
and enjoy the plummeting high of downright dangerous fun.
Never mind watching the forecast for news of snow and ice,
the quagmire readily waiting will more than adequately suffice.
Here I can still break my leg, but it’s absolutely free,
yes, budget Yorkshire skiing is the Winter sport for me!

18 December – The Christmas bird (II)

It seems our little Jenny wren isn’t the only bird intent
on replacing someone’s Christmas tree angel during this Advent.
Last night, a sparrowhawk in Scotland made the evening news
for coming up with a full, festive angel-replacement ruse.
She waited till her target opened the back door nice and wide,
then took her envied chance to relocate herself inside.
She placed herself, happily, on top of the Christmas tree,
fancying herself the pinnacle of all its glittering finery.
Eventually experts came to help, and the bird was safely released,
no doubt she was far from impressed though, to miss the 25th’s feast!

18 December - The Christmas bird (II)

17 December – Second Autumn

The leaves are all long gone now,
so what is all this gold
that suddenly and sun-fully
is warming up the cold?
The wooded hills burn again
with bronze and copper fire
as the twigs take their turn
to shine with colours of desire.
And these newly ochred acres,
coloured in by low sunlight
are like a little second Autumn
that resurrects the fallen bright.
My spirit is touched by the low light too,
swelling to gleams and glows
as it’s polished and uplit into uplift
by reprising October shows.

16 December – Interrupted flight

Caught in the cracking crossfire
of the grouse shoot’s shots’ surround sound,
she fled.

And fearful flight looked serene for a moment
as she drew a perfect, lithe arc of born-for-this
grace.

But her hooves never landed on turf or tarmac,
and as bone met speeding steel up ahead,
she crumpled.

I said a long goodbye by the roadside,
crouching in the reddened rain to stroke
with hands and words.

We had to let her go.
Permanently interrupted.
Grounded, then gone.

And I, who long to see deer up close,
especially in daylight, was angry at my chance
to hold a doe.

I remember how her wet fur felt and how her eyes
lost their widened flight-fright-fight look
to pain,
then calm,
then nothing.

Life happens. Death happens.
I know the way of the world by now.
But this? This was wrong.

16 December - Interrupted flight

15 December – Caked

When my boots are covered in mud
and the path is oozing goo,
I like to re-imagine the slime
I’m sliding and squelching through
as something far more appealing,
and splendidly appetising,
such as Mississippi mud pie
or Yule log with rich, thick icing.
Of course it increases Winter cravings
when I fixate like this on chocolate,
so perhaps I should always be prepared
by having some in my pocket.
For if I arranged things in this way,
I’m sure that would compensate
for wading through such a sticky mess
and getting so thoroughly caked.

14 December – The Christmas bird

There is a little Jenny Wren who bravely leaves her huddle,
and all the warmth that is her own whenever her chime cuddles,
to perch on top of the terrace conifer and directly stare
at the angel on our Christmas tree as if wishing she was there,
trimmed in golden plumage with fallen stars at her feet,
glittering in the twinkling and basking in the heat
of seeming sunshine feathers ruffling in the grate,
dancing on and on to conquer the dark and late.
I call her the Christmas bird and imagine a full backstory
where she longs to come inside and claim the angel’s glory,
but learns in time it’s only fabric and can neither sing nor fly,
and for all its glorious glamour will soon have to say goodbye,
when Twelfth Night passes and it’s boxed up and put away,
never to feel the air in it’s wings or the real sun’s stroking rays.
Then I watch my Jenny Wren take off with a new sense of vision,
as if reconciled to her one wild life and at peace with her decision.

14 December - The Christmas bird

12 December – City sightseeing

People think, in the countryside, you’ll always find more,
but I confess I still miss the city sights I used to see before
when my friends lived in Leeds at Foxcroft Mount
and I honestly met more foxes than I could count.
Each would slink along boldly with an almost feline grace,
at surprising odds with the habit of then sticking its face
in any rubbish it could rootle through to find choice fare,
before looking up to fix on you with a nonchalant stare.
It’s true, now we’re in Nidderdale, we are spoilt with sightings
– kingfishers, otters, stoats, hares and myriad more to delight in –
but I haven’t seen a single fox since we’ve all moved out here,
and I do often wish one would magically appear
with its burnished bright coat glinting in the moon,
blessing me breathless with beauty even as it leaves too soon.

11 December – Choose your own view

A blanket of fog throws over my world,
as if stray fallen clouds have been knitted and purled
into wispy woollen wetness that covers and curls
over everything.

It’s definitely a duvet day, outside and in,
so I huddle in my house and invite my mind to begin
imagining pretend horizons that newly cast and spin
the view beyond.

Like a child with a torch, hiding under the covers
I find brave new worlds to conjure and discover,
I could be any place now, here or a thousand others,
who knows?

Maybe there are mountains rising only metres away,
or waves crashing to shore mesmerisingly all day.
Perhaps when the blanket lifts, I’ll be looking at May,
not December.

This is the way to triumph over thick white gloom,
to retreat right back into your favourite room
and re-design your set design until you can resume
seeing clearly.

11 December - Choose your own view

10 December – Romanticised robins

Every day the letter box resounds with a merry little crash
as Christmas cards from far flung friends drop in on the welcome mat.
Many depict idealised versions of crisp white winter scenes
with the miniature man in red, resplendent against lush evergreens.
His beak is usually open in song, as if carolling Christmas cheer,
but it’s far more likely he’s really shouting, “get away from here!”
For robins are feisty and fierce, defending their patches for all they’re worth,
and are the most unlikely characters to be singing of ‘peace on earth’!
It’s not surprising they’re romanticised when they perfectly fit Yuletide aesthetics,
but you have to laugh when you realise they’re chirping the equivalent of expletives…
I’m not suggesting robins should relinquish their role as chief festive bird,
but just that we laugh a little at ourselves for being so quaintly absurd.

9 December – Last night, I dreamt of Summer

Last night, I dreamt of Summer
and everything I miss
when the world around me shivers
and the sun shuns to kiss
the hedgerows and the hillsides
with its full bodied rays,
holding back its warmth
and putting in part-time days.

Last night, I dreamt of Summer
and all the flowers that shone,
but woke again this morning
to find every petal gone,
and only hardened earth
in their place so bleak and bare,
as if I’d only imagined
there were ever colours there.

Last night, I dreamt of Summer
and all that is to come
on the other side of Winter
when Spring has fully sprung;
when the weary world has once again
turned and changed and spun –
and I saw myself dancing
in what is yet to be begun.

8 December – Social pariah

Snow is the stuff of winter legends,
elusive and long anticipated.
And its warmer sibling rain
is usually at least tolerated –
after all, it’s always good for the plants
and in heatwaves achieves celebrity status –
it’s only when it drenches on and on
that we long for a brief hiatus.
But spare a thought for the middle child,
wanted by no one and nothing at all.
Yes, everyone moans and groans
when sleet decides to fall.
It’s a byword for disappointment,
close the door on it, keep it away,
“why can’t you just be snow?”
we complain to it in dismay.
To be fair it soaks to the bone,
and inflicts an icy chill,
with none of the beauty or fun
that gives snow its superior thrill.
But should it really be treated
as such a social outcast?
Do we always have to greet it
with nothing but lambast?
I admit I am struggling to find
attributes to positively celebrate
but perhaps I can still summon
some kind of compassion to commiserate
with the endless cold shoulders
it experiences from us all,
and resolve to be a bit more polite
next time it comes to call.

7 December – Inside nature

Why does it cause such extreme delight
when we bring various elements of nature inside?
Cut flowers in the kitchen spreading scent through the air,
animals scampering about, creating havoc everywhere!
Pot plants on the landing, blooming courtesy of the heating,
all bring a sense of the great outdoors (while only slightly cheating).
And the the pinnacle of it all, I’m sure you must agree,
that moment each December when we bring inside a tree.
We move the furniture over, squeeze past branches every day,
but exclaim “no it absolutely isn’t even slightly in the way!”
We add to our living room grove by bringing the tree some company,
bedecking every remaining surface with mistletoe and holly.
And nothing else we buy or make can really quite compete
with the ever-greens and berry reds we string out and spin in wreaths.
Is there something deep within me that half longs to live outside?
Even though I’m so far beyond even trying to acclimatise
to life really and truly lived underneath a tree –
that would be too much of getting inside nature for me!

6 December – Wreathing

Searching, stretching, snipping
the best branches and sprigs,
bravely capturing holly
despite her fierce, persistent pricks.
Twisting, turning, weaving
all the foliage into place,
working with its eccentricities
to shape something uniquely homemade.
This year I use jasmine vines
to form my basic hoop,
and I can’t quite believe
just how well they weave and loop.
Strange that I’m amazed by this,
and by using just one piece of string,
when these extraordinary climbers
are used to winding round anything.
So I realise all I’m doing now,
as I braid in variegated ivy,
is reuniting old friends
and imitating their mastery.
A little bit of gold dust
and my work is near completing,
my hands are scratched and cold,
but my heart is warmed by wreathing.

5 December – Dot to dot puzzles

All across the field, like dot to dot puzzles,
are the hilly remains of moles’ secret bustles.
If only they were numbered, we would be able to chart
the lines they have tunnelled in their underground art.
Then we could perceive what they’re drawing below,
but alas it’s all a muddle, so we will never know
what masterpieces they’re making out of all that soil,
and so most people conclude that all they do is spoil
the smooth green turf that is so highly prized,
negating their creating, and seeking their demise.
But I suggest their work is perhaps misunderstood,
it’s not necessarily fly-tipping, it might be rather good.
Just because it’s abstract and a little hard to fathom,
doesn’t mean it’s not deserving of a bigger fandom.
So let’s hear it for the moles and their unconventional school,
they’re not the first artists to break a few rules!

4 December – First frost

The first frost is soft,
a subtle hint of glint
on glistening gables
that catches the morning light.
But out in the fields there’s more to find,
hidden here and there on the ground,
as if Jack’s little sister
has been practising her art
like a precocious apprentice;
running odd blades of grass
through her icy fingers
and learning to lace a leaf
with sparkling glitter thread.
I smile at these small sugared touches,
appreciating their delicate shine
and their tiny perfect prefiguring
of the hoar frosts that will follow in time.

3 December – Dolly holly

It’s only ever the female holly
that treats December as one long jolly,
dolling herself up from head to toe,
trying to outshine the mistletoe.
Cherry red lipstick on bright berry lips
upstages even the remaining rosehips.
But can you blame her when she knows
she’s going to visit so many homes,
and as she struggles with witty repartee,
how else will she dazzle at every party?
The lady in red knows this is her time
and stealing the show is hardly a crime.
She’s the belle of the ball but look, don’t touch –
hugging holly close hurts far too much!

2 December – Pale

There’s something about Winter that’s pale
like it’s caught its own chill and shows it
in washed out skies of bleached-bleary skin
peeking out between thick duvet clouds.
Its hues are quiet and withdrawn
– muted, muffled, scarce –
as if it’s shy, or somehow reluctant
to be defined by anything except
absence.
But even in its half-hearted light,
it still has hidden beauty to bestow
if you’re willing to go on a quest
to seek and see it up close.
So be the one to make the move,
pursue friendship with its wary ways,
and you’ll find underneath all that white, weary bluster,
Winter will often respond by blushing to sudden colour.

2 December - Pale

1 December – Winter waiting

I know it was calculated planning
that led our Advents to fall
in December’s darkening nights.
But I am glad of it all.
For Winter draws us to waiting,
waiting for growth and light.
So why on earth not remember
waiting for the coming Christ?
The trees are fasting their colours,
they’ve shed all their crowns at his feet,
and I study their bold emptiness
as I wait for the strength to seek.
The wind carols lyrics of longing,
the night draws close to see
the watching candles all lit
for a man from Galilee.
He too found meaning in nature,
shared pictorial lessons of wild
to parable profound promises
with the sage simplicity of a child.
So I turn my heart’s full attention
to listen and quietly look
at the Winter world around me
as it opens his truth like a book.