Winter Green

Cold. Tipping-edge cold. Balanced on a pre-solstice day in early December, two winters ago; before the snows…

Tunnels of light hollow between the trees; deep wells of echo-light, fastening the horizon around us.

Winter trees and sky

Everything hushes near, closing moments in startled sound… A blackbird alarms; a crow, urgent, makes for sky-laden trees – a warning of the vagrancy of night.

And we look for the green – the winter bloom of life that even now, just before the ice, takes an in breath and keeps on breathing. The Holly and the Ivy. Wearing the crown of winter…

Holly berries

And more green reaches our eyes; luminous tree-cloaks of moss…

Holly and winter tree-cloaks of moss

Lichens – like undersea creatures surprised by halted water…

Moss and lichen


And all the time, we are drawn closer – through woodland windows; the leaves a spent thought, already murmuring into the earth.

Mossy tree-window

A tree stump, its own world…

Winter tree stump

– connected to the hilt of a living branch, and sheathed in a ferment of flourishing and decay – invites us ever closer…

Fungi Fairytale world

…to more green, more breathing; the earth casting shapes like small totems of existence. A fairy world, a microcosm world…

Tree stump world

– where an oak leaf, dreaming its beauty like a work of art, cradles its future in droplets of decay, ready to give life…

Winter oak leaf

The lowering light cools to a seeping sheen, defying the clasp of ice.


Fungi, ferns, moss, lichen, evergreens…

Winter ferns and moss

Arboreal ferns

…these are the keepers of winter, taking their turn to fold the year‘s attention their way. All is quiet, all vibrantly alive – humming in connection to something turning even in the stillness; the spin of the planet constantly revealed…

Homeward, caught in ice light before the snow, we travel a margin of shadow…

Homeward - December sunset

…the sun melting towards the year’s waking-dreaming; tipping us nearer the solstice – and towards new memories of green…

(Photos taken at Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire Cotswolds, December 2010)


14 thoughts on “Winter Green

    • Thank you, Selina… Really glad you enjoyed this! I’d intended to post these photos two years ago – and then so much intervened! I thought they’d maybe never get used on the blog, but looking at them again, at the same time of year, brought back the magical, wintry, turning point feel of that day – and the memories found their right moment to turn into words at last!

  1. I felt like I was gliding into the winter green alongside you here, Melanie. So crisp and fluid are your beautiful phrases, guiding us with a lingering eye to the small and complex worlds of lichens and mosses, tree stumps and leaves “already murmuring into the earth.” Thanks for taking us into a gone winter, left behind in time but still rising all the while, in memory and images as crystalline as the cold.

    Best wishes,

    • Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Julian – which is like a journey into the ‘crystalline’ magic of these pre-solstice days all in itself! I’m fascinated by the small and the easily overlooked – the lichens, tiny fungi, the patterns of moss when you look up close. When I was writing this piece, the naturalist in me was nagging at me to be more precise in identifying and naming the species etc (especially as I did an OU course a while back, and we did a whole project on lichens – leaving terms like ‘foliose’ and ‘crustose’ clamouring to attach themselves to my findings) – but, the mood of that day didn’t want to be confined by that – so I left it quietly simmering, knowing its own name – one that perhaps is elusive to pin down. I’m so pleased that a sense of that mysterious winter essence came across in the result – and I’m so glad you enjoyed reading it!

      Best wishes,

  2. ‘Deep wells of echo-light, fastening the horizon around us’… love that, beautifully captured, the way there’s something very quiet and special about the bare trees as this time of year, that mid-afternoon look with the sun just starting to dip away. Feels very ancient and magical – talking of which I am a long way into The Dark is Rising and very much enjoying it… the scenes of Christmas ritual and atmosphere in particular, and the winter landscape. The ‘darkness’ is very interesting: the sense of protection and strength needed to protect ‘the light’ is what makes it special I think, that’s where its depth feels to be at the moment.

    • I’m so pleased that feeling of the ancient and magical came across in this for you – that day was so filled with it. Thank you for your kind words…

      And I’m so, so pleased to hear that you’re enjoying The Dark is Rising! Those scenes of Christmas ritual and the ancient depths simmering in the winter landscape are perfect reading for this time of year, aren’t they. The Buckinghamshire village and countryside of the book is based on where Susan Cooper grew up – and that very strong and personal attachment to it, and to the landscape’s ancient stories, suffuses the narrative, I think. She has said in interviews and essays that the protecting the light from darkness partly came out of being a child of the second world war – and that sense she grew up with of a dark threat, and how it connected to the mythic explorations of the archetypal struggles of human nature. She makes that depth really work across the series by never creating a simple ‘bad and good’ dichotomy, but showing where the ambiguities lie too. In The Grey King, she does quite a bit to show how terrifying and disregarding ‘the light’ can be in its relentless cause sometimes. Enjoy the rest of your read!

  3. Lovely to see this post Melanie – so much in the mood of the moment, even if from the past in images. You have written so beautifully I shall remember those phrases on my next wander through the woods. I dipped into The Dark is Rising again for my last post and thought I must read it again properly. I have just been reading the Snow Child, but I am a bit disappointed so far.

    • Diana, thank you for such a lovely comment and for your kind words… It’s been a hectic week here; I’ve just grabbed the chance to visit your latest posts – enchanted woods abound! Wonderful to enter further into the wintry, magical ‘mood of the moment’ through art, poetry and story in your post (and to find there the words you’ve chosen from The Dark is Rising entwined perfectly through it all…) I was wondering whether to read Eowyn Ivey’s book in the lead up to Christmas too – but am still caught up in Susan Fletcher’s beautifully written Witch Light – which I’ve already had to renew at the library! (I’m hoping to get some time to read as a special gift from Father Christmas this year!)


  4. Beautiful -those close ups of lichens & fungi take me right out into the forests I’d love to be in, though at the moment unfortunately they’ll have to stay in my imagination. Hope 2013 is going to be good to you Melanie.

    • Really lovely to find your comment waiting for me here, Sonya. Glad this post took you out into the forests that live in your memory and imagination. I so sympathise with that separation-from-the-woods feeling… For various reasons, we’ve been stuck indoors for far too long lately, and I’m longing to be out amongst the trees again. Thanks so much for your New Year good wishes, Sonya – I hope 2013 will be good to you too – and that it will bring your way lots of creative opportunities, and the chance for many happy forest/ mountain/ coastal wanderings and inspiration…


  5. This is exquisite, both words and pictures. Those wistful winter days and melancholy fading afternoons are so unique to the English country-side somehow, and you evoked it all to beautifully.
    I loved reading your comments about The Dark is Rising, too.. Please don’t feel you have to reply to these rather trite comments – I’m just having such pleasure browsing through these lovely, lovely posts… and wish they were preserved – not in aspic or amber, but in a book…

    • Oh, Valerie – what a lovely, touching thing to say! Thank you so much for your kind and generous words! It’s so rewarding to know that you are enjoying these posts. I so admire your wonderful writing – your vote of confidence means a lot to me!

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