Last night savage gales tore down the valley, throwing black rain against the windows.
Up here, in the Yorkshire Pennines, the spring comes late and tentatively. It is no surprise, this coyness. It happens every year.
I have written before, that nothing much has changed in the woods this month. It is a month of three steps forward and two steps back. March teases us with a bright, sunny day, cold but full of promise; then it hits us with three days of sleet and rain. The woods oscillate between muddy and flooded.
But suddenly, in this last week of the month, there are unmistakeable signs of new stirrings.
Walking in this wind is exhilarating, even when you are unsteady on your feet. Perhaps, because you are unsteady. It can be a bit like being drunk.
The mud is too wet and extensive to go round, so I just slop through it like a child in wellies. I can hear the wind coming from the west, roaring off the moor like a train, clattering the trees and rocking the whole wood. Ruby lifts her head to sniff the new smells that come with each gust, and I am filled with a desire to grin and run about.
And now there are some daffodils in the hedgerow, shouting their yellowness at the winter, as it reels back from the onslaught of the wind.
Just round the corner, above the river, the first bluebell leaves have pushed through the woodland floor. They are in a race now with the trees, rushing to flower while there is enough sun, before the tree canopy closes over and the ground becomes shadow.
I have come across a badger sett. I don’t know if it is new or old, but I’ve not found it before. I never know if a new thing is genuinely new or if I’ve just not stumbled (literally) across it before. Animals use each other’s holes, of course, so there is no telling if badgers are in there at the moment, but there is no evidence of rabbits and no smell of fox.
There are five holes, all the right size. They have been carefully maintained, for badgers are good housekeepers. The area around each hole is swept clean, and bits of old bedding have been brought out and discarded.
I will keep my eyes on it. It always brings me up short when I find myself writing as though I can see. It is the habit of the language, the laziness of the cliché. No, I will keep my body aware of it, for they may be preparing for having cubs, and at some point in the summer I will have to come out here at dusk and settle downwind of the sett and hold vigil for the night, not in the hope that I may see them, but that I might hear them snuffling round me.
That would be worth a sleepless night, wouldn’t it?