25 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd

So savage winter catches
The breath of limber things,
And what I love he snatches,
And what I love not, brings.”

Thomas Hardy

By Saturday afternoon the back lanes around Kervéguen were navigable and by Sunday most of the sea of snow had gone. Constantly being leant on by the Atlantic winds gives the landscape of Finistère a hungry look at the best of times but after the snow it has a bitter, famished aspect. Purpose, sunk in the snow, dissipates completely in its soggy aftermath. I retreated inside and distracted myself with suddenly important paperwork.

After all, also revealed by removal of the white shroud were the few mortal remains of our geese, just a flurry of feathers and a smear of blood apiece really. Emma thought she had seen her earlier in the week, lurking in a local coppice, dark and hunt savvy. The fox had exploited the breach in the fence created by drifting snow and fed her unborn family before we could feed ours – a parity of purpose which defeats blame, I suppose.

Further down our lane there’s a hamlet in a sharp bend. Proud still, but a bit neglected. It must comprise a dozen buildings, but only a few are occupied these days. I imagine the sons of Quenech Cadec have moved to the smart new farms around and about. But there’s an old couple still living there. I saw the old man out feeding his chickens yesterday. He was wearing clogs of the sort they used to make in the forests around Huelgoat a hundred years ago.

This enduring landscape seems littered with messages sometimes. I found the thought of the resilience of the old man and his clogs through all those previous winters a real inspiration. I also derived an important lesson from the loss of the geese: of the “counting chickens before they’re hatched” variety. Pride in a flock is misplaced until they are banked in the freezer or multiplied into another generation. Like spending the promise of money, it’s an inappropriate form of optimism – debt as the opposite of self-sufficiency. This realisation transformed my attitude to the dead zone before the shortest day and the urgency of sowing seed and turning soil has returned redoubled.