I am a Spring and Autumn person. Spring brings welcome release after the confinement of Winter. It brings birthdays and new adventures and good green growing things. And Autumn, well everyone loves Autumn with its riot of colour and crisp bright days. However, Winter brings challenges – icy roads, cold temperatures and dark, gloomy days. Where I live Winter is primarily grey. Cheerless grey days with endless rain. I wouldn’t mind proper snow but a good snowfall is rare. Sleet lacks all the thrill of snow and is vastly more unpleasant than rain. So when cabin fever threatens after yet another dreary day inside, I escape to the woods in winter.
The trees are bare. Grey trunks and branches against a grey sky. Only the silver birch stands stark bone-white from the dark brown mud. Some small saplings retain their leaves into the new year, but they have shrivelled to an orangey brown barely indistinguishable from the leaf-strewn ground. My wellies are perpetually muddy after even the shortest stroll through the woods in winter. Ankle-deep and clinging (but still a child-like joy when it makes a particularly good squelchy sound).
It’s true there is a stark beauty in the reaching leaf-less twigs, their rune-like shapes revealed. And a closer look reveals the tight-closed buds containing the promise of new spring leaves. However, their time for unfurling is still far away. What really draws me to the woods is the moss and lichen in all their myriad greens.
The moss especially seems to come into its own over winter. The backdrop of brown and grey gives the moss an almost neon glow. As surrounding foliage has mostly died back there is more space to fully appreciate the forms of moss and lichen. Strange miniature landscapes, undulating mounds and reaching tendrils. The way drops of moisture glisten on the orange tips which stand like tiny trees over the moss-grass. Fissured tree bark slowly being covered in velvety green. Evocatively named pixie cup lichen, like alien structures, or indeed, diminutive goblets for faery folk.
One day I’ll devote proper time to learning the names of the various moss and lichens I encounter in the woods. The more you look, the more individual types you see. It would be easy to spend a lifetime immersing yourself in their rich, intricate worlds. For now, I’ll content myself with admiring gazes and delving my fingertips into thick, cool clumps (for who can resist!) as I explore the woods in winter.