Even if it seems like it will never end, winter doesn’t last forever. The first harbingers of spring still arrive with a very welcome sense of regularity
I was cradling a cup of tea in my hands, letting the heat penetrate into them, when I couldn’t ignore that background noise any longer. Was someone driving a flock of geese up the narrow lane which, when it’s on duty, doubles as the high street of the village?
I opened the door, looked up and down, there was no life form of any kind to be seen. Unless you want to count the skeletons of weeds along the side of the road – frozen, dried out and left for dead by a merciless winter. Glancing down the intersection, there was evidence of life: three humans, all facing skywards. I followed their gaze and saw … the pale, late-afternoon winter sky filled – and when I say filled, I mean filled – with migrating birds. They were flying in V-formation, and as high up as they were, their screeching and honking filled the air as though they were padding up and down the high street, looking for trouble.
That morning we had just been stacking another delivery of firewood. Without any other effective way of heating the house we, like almost everyone else here, still spark up the reliable wood stove, which magically fills the home with warmth and the air with its caramelly, spicey perfume. The logs clunked one after the other on the pile made a xylophone music of their own.
Yet winter is obviously beginning to weaken its frozen hold on the landscape. The air is no longer dry and biting but smells of leaf mould and damp soil in the mornings. The sound vacuum has been breached by a hundred different melodies of birdsong. Plant life, while still not at its vigorous, verdant best, looks fuller, plumper, gathering strength for an imminent profusion of green and colour. Buds swell on stems, on shoots, on green protrusions everywhere – some green, some silvery, some already a sassy shade of pink.
And those birds. They were cranes, I was told by Miguel, the Portuguese potter and general savant who lives down the other road leading down, then up the hill and out of the village. There were thousands of them, squawking as they flew from south to north, in V-formations that undulated sinuously across the sky. Occasionally an individual bird here and there would detach itself from one V, then join another, no longer distinguishable from any of the others. For some 20 minutes, these birds, pointing like arrows forming bigger arrows towards their secret destination in the north, kept coming from one horizon, to disappear into the opposite one. Always with the same unerring, unveering, relentless sense of purpose. How they know what to do, where to go, when to depart, and how to arrange themselves – in fact, why the V-formation? A good question for Google. Or, rather, the very aptly-named search engine Duck Duck Go.
But that is for another day. At the moment, I’m just enjoying being filled with the sense of awe at the immensity of it all, the sense of imminent, momentous change. And soon not having to warm my hands on too-rapidly cooling cups of tea.