The cold returns for a day or two, then more rain: first misty drizzle, and the next day, after rain all night, the water level has risen noticeably. The rain continues through the day and into the night; the morning after is bright, but the sight that meets me is water up to the top of the flood banks and tipping over into the fields – which are becoming covered with water. Looking back towards the town gives the impression of being beside the sea. The drama, though, is the water coming over the bank and pouring down into the field with a roar like a miniature version of the Niagara falls. Even the starlings seem surprised – scattered and fluttering over the landscape as if they don’t know the way.
The nearby Butleigh road is flooded, with a car marooned in the middle of a huge puddle. This only lasts a day though; by the end of the weekend things are back to ‘normal’ – the sky is grey, but calm, the river smooth and flowing steadily; the starlings fly over high up and in huge, steady formations. The flooded field clears quite quickly though a pool remains – the one that has been here for several weeks now, but larger. Masses of starlings swarm across the ground that has been flooded, no doubt good for feeding; and there’s also a large group of gulls at one end of the pool. There are lots of gulls about, so still storms out at sea.
The weather changes with the sky a beautiful bright orange over to the east when the sun is about to come up. As I walk down the road a man appears on a bicycle; I had seen him some time before, in December when the mornings were at their darkest. I had been surprised by his sudden appearance out of the gloom and I had said “Whoah! You need a light!” – which he did. Now he appeared again, more easily visible but clearly still nursing a grudge about what he must have taken as a challenge: he deliberately rode his bicycle almost straight towards me, close enough to be threatening, and with “If you’re ever around me you need to keep your fucking mouth shut, mate.”
He rode past, so that his back was towards me; and then came the most extraordinary behaviour from some starlings. They came over whilst I was still walking down the road, a large mass of them that broke into smaller aerobatic groups. One group detached itself and circled around, forming itself into a tight ball; suddenly just one bird dropped from the centre of the formation and descended very quickly, almost like a stone towards the ground. A very strange morning: the date is February 10th.
The following morning is entirely winter: a world enveloped in mist and frost. As the sun rises there are swathes of steam coming off the river, adding to the mist in the air. The crisp grass is tinted white. The water in the river slides along, quite brisk, but smooth, on its way to somewhere warmer and more colourful. The sky is ready to turn bright, clear and blue, but not until the frozen morning has had its time. The starlings saunter by, inhabiting a scene that seems to suit them better than it does humans.
The cold weather continues through most of the month; sometimes a sharp frost, sometimes just clear and cold. The full moon floats high in the sky to the west just before sunrise, reflected in the near-stillness of the river. Sometimes the sunrise is bright with red and orange. The numbers of starlings are beginning to diminish; it is nearer to Spring Equinox now than to Imbolc, and the season is beginning to turn. There’s a new sense of vibrancy in the foliage, not quite visible yet but it’s there, ready to burst into life. The pools of water on the fields have nearly all drained away, and the ground underfoot feels more solid. The river seems to be settling down lower between its banks.
The last day of February this year is ‘a day out of time’ … It’s frosty and clear, and where there are streaks of cloud they reflect subtle shades of pink and orange. I alarm a pair of ducks that fly off noisily. My fingers are feeling very cold, and I head back home …