For some time now, like one of those playful little projects saved up for nothing but the enjoyment of doing them, I’d been meaning to compile a video made up my of all the tiny snippets of footage of winter light I’ve been capturing on my winter walks. The limitations of the phone I use for these spur-of-the-moment films lend the finished article a certain home-made charm (that looks best on the small screen…) and yet it also succeeds in capturing something strongly aligned with the essence of some of my favourite things about winter.
Mostly filmed along the rivers Whitewater and Blackwater close to home in beautiful Berkshire, the compiled footage of so many moments of molten gold dancing atop the inky black waters of winter has filled me with such a profound sense of appreciation for where I live, turning into a meditation on gratitude as I put it together.
The absolute tranquility implied by the audio is the only stretch to the imagination, the challenge of recording anything much longer than ten seconds without the sonic boom of a passing plane proving too much of a challenge for me. It was a shame that I wasn’t able to use some of the underlying sounds because they included robins, blackbirds, wrens, geese, skylarks and the ever-haunting cry of the red kite but the wind and aeroplane sounds that came with them made this unpractical. What I settled for was a music track (negotiating the challenge of what really counts as Creative Commons presented me with a learning curve; my advice is to always check the small print on websites offering ‘free use’ music) so what you hear now is slightly different – better-fitting and more uplifting – track than the one I originally used.
I’m aggrandizing a patched-together collection of small video shots that, I know, is nothing so very accomplished in a world full of far more pristine YouTube videos…and yet, the result of these cinematic brushstrokes on the canvas of six-minutes of airplay is something oddly close to the raw experience of my daily life as I walk along these familiar riverbanks.
I mentioned hearing the song of the skylark this season and I really have been hearing this a lot, this winter, which is a first. A common enough sound on my high-summer walks, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this in winter before. The skylark does over-winter in the UK, relying on corn stubs for nesting, but the popular opinion seems to be that they tend not to sing later in the year, particularly as the male uses his unmistakably intricate, mid-flight song to distract predators from the nest.
Other seasonal anomalies, I notice, are stacking up. Two week before Christmas, I was surprised by a peacock butterfly coming off a hedgerow and flying straight at me, almost brushing my face, before landing back on the bush. Then, while doing some very early gardening at the start of January (I don’t usually venture out there until March, which tells me my own seasonal behaviour is also changing…), I rescued a very un-sleepy seven-spotted ladybird from the compost bin and tried to find him a new warm-spot beneath foliage, though they are usually well-huddled together under eaves and in outhouses by now. Mid-January, I was delighted yet dismayed to come across a pair of Egyptian geese marching at least half a dozen tiny chicks between them, honking as they went (last time I came across an early clutch like this, in February a couple of years ago, they didn’t make it through the next cold-snap). To cap it all, we were joined at dinner last night by a sizeable mosquito flying around and landing on the windowsill, so now I really know the seasons are going through their own reinvention and the wildlife with them.