Today is St Hilary’s Day, traditionally the coldest day of the year, but it seems warmer outside than it was yesterday, when there was a hard frost, and it all looked so beautiful I wrapped up well and went for a walk along the canal, which is one of my favourite places – it’s always so quiet, and whatever the weather is like there isalways plenty of wildlife to be seen, and plants to look at. Yesterday everything glittered and sparkled in the sunlight, which was bright but gave out very little warmth.
In recent weeks all the rain has turned the towpath into a quagmire, but yesterday morning it was so cold the mud had turned hard as rock, and all the puddles had changed to ice. I had a wonderful time looking at the ice patterns, which were all different. Some were made up of spiky lines, while others looked as if some strange alchemy had transformed the water to marble, and they looked quite, quite extraordinary – such a shame one can’t pick them up and carry them home to keep, but perhaps the ephemeral nature of these natural artworks is part of their charm.
arts of the surface of the water in the canal were covered with a thin tracery of ice, like scraps of some fine, delicate, lacy fabric, laid out ready to be stitched together and made whole. And because the ice was so thin and fragmented, you could see reflections in the water below, as well as reflections in the ice itself, and everything looked slightly distorted. It didn’t seem to bother the ducks though, because there were still able to swim through the ice pieces, opening up pathways which closed again in their wake. When the ice is thicker and more solid they skate around the surface, slipping and sliding in comical fashion, but we haven’t reached that stage yet this year.
There were buds and catkins on some of trees and hedges (which seems very early in the season to me), but others still bore scarlet berries and dead leaves on their branches. And I saw a lovely, glossy male blackbird, perched on a twig in the bold, cocky way they have, but just as I got near enough to take a picture, he flew off! And I could hear birds singing, but have no idea what they are. Actually, I have a CD of birdsong, and this year I want to spend time listening to it, and if I focus on the birds which are common in this area, I might eventually be able to recognise a few of them. I can but hope!
Oddest of all on my walk was an orange and black plastic ball, caught in the bank opposite the towpath, and reflected in the canal. The ducks kept swimming backwards and forwards at that spot, and dabbling their beaks in the reflection. They didn't seem to be able to make any sense of it - perhaps they thought it was something good to eat!
And, before anyone asks, I have no idea what the connection is between the weather and St Hilary. I can only assume it was part of the Medieval weather lore which helped farmers decide which tasks should be undertaken at various stages of the year. St Hilary (whose name comes from the Latin for happy and cheerful) was a pagan doctor in France in the 4th Century, but was converted and became Bishop of Poitiers. He was exiled for what we would now call doctrinal differences, I suppose. He opposed a group of heretics who were favoured by Emperor Constantius II. Eventually he returned to Poitiers, but during his exile he studied, and wrote books and hymns to support his beliefs, so his symbol is three books and a quill pen.
The lives of the Saints fascinate me, and I like to try and dream up suitable celebrations for them, so I think St Hilary calls for a spot of writing – and ice cream!