I was almost grateful for the heavy cloud and rain this morning. The shortest day of the year did it in style here in North Yorkshire, piling on maximum gloom. The day went from black to dull grey at its peak about an hour ago; a slow return to black over the next couple of hours looks inevitable. I actually really enjoy the shortest day of the year, not particularly as a turning point, but for its own sake. It is a true marker in the natural calendar. But I don’t automatically look forward to spring; I crave winter and so far we have had very little cold, frosty weather, let alone snow. I truly hope that before spring comes I will see Gilling East blanketed in snow- a subject I love to paint.
We find ourselves isolating due to Tolly’s persistent cough, likely a cold, but we are sticking strictly to the rules. The test has not arrived yet and we are craving a walk but can’t leave the garden. Even the rare planetary conjunction is a few hundred metres out of reach because it is hidden by the hill. So today is a day for appreciating our garden birds. Yesterday was brighter and I sketched our regular robin. The colour in its breast ranging from the light warm cadmium highlights to deep brick red in shadow. The warm slightly olive brown of the back separated by gorgeous icy blue grey. What a stunning bird, just take some time to really look closely.
Both male and female robins are territorial in winter, but sometimes in very cold weather the boundaries are temporarily eased and several may be seen together around the bird table. With a change back to warmer conditions they return to their former territories. But we are not far away now from the time robins pair up. This often happens in February but sometimes earlier. The soft winter song will be replaced by much more vigorous singing by territorial males. From that time more is at stake. They are guarding a mate and an area to raise young and the great gusto with which the song is performed reflects this.
Now at 2.38pm, the rain continues to fall, a damp fog has descended on the valley. In an hour it will be all but dark and time to light the fire. Due to cloud we wouldn’t have seen Saturn and Jupiter in their conjunction anyway. The weather forecast is increasingly showing some signs of cold and perhaps some wintry showers from Christmas Eve on. So on the shortest day I will look forward with hope not to spring but to the beauty of a winter which is still to come.