February

The other morning a merlin skimmed down the holloway at a ferocious speed. It was clearly as surprised to run into us at my chest level as we and dog were to meet it so suddenly. It swerved into a smooth U-turn as swiftly as if it hadn’t had to stop, which according to the laws of physics I think it would have to have done, at least for a micro-mini-second (do you remember the thing everyone quoted way back last century about the fact that when a bumblebee and an express train meet head-on, both are halted for an infinitesimally small moment?).

I’m sad to see that the huge old sweet chestnut tree that had leaned to make an arch over the footpath has been cut. Looking at the growth rings on the stump it must have been two or three hundred years old, predating the cottage (the stone barn has 1848 carved into the lintel).

Its flowers were such a great food source for the bees, and although there are many sweet chestnuts in the area, it was one of the best local fruiters, providing huge numbers of fat marrons, big as any from further south, and a significant source of foraged protein for us here in the autumn/winter.

In February, amid the frost and ice or gales and storms, it’s easy to forget that the month can bring gentleness too, in the southwest of GB as well as here (the climate’s much the same, perhaps plus a couple of degrees). For many years now in the southwest of GB I’ve expected to be able to sit outside on at least one February day with a cup of coffee, or lunch; and last week was no exception here in Finistère. In fact it was warm enough to have bare feet and wear just a T-shirt.

The japonica blossom is on the cusp. Snowdrops of course are out, and one or two narcissi. Celandines and primroses are starring the banks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such waterfalls of hazel catkins as there are bordering the lanes and roads. After Morlaix, it’s woods all the way to Huelgoat, and they’re gilded. The other broadleaf trees are wearing that dull monochrome washed-out end-of-winterness that actually disguises the fact that any day now they’ll start to put forth their green.

We wake each morning to a thrush belting out spring, balanced on the slender uppermost twig of a fir tree opposite, and the garden is full of birdsong. Over the hedge, one of the resident magpies does a very convincing impression of a cat miaowing – and a dog yapping. Nearer, I frequently hear, though rarely see, a green woodpecker.

Bees and a brimstone butterfly are around, though there’s not too much nectar for them yet.

The town at the weekend – half-term – was buzzing; and in warm sun everyone was smiling. Even one of the crêperies, closed for the season, was open again for a day or two.

On the lake, to my delight, the lone swan (widowed in 2015) was swimming with a new mate, at last.

Later, we treat ourselves to lunch at the café-librairie which is such a feature of the eastern edge of the forest. Even out of season, the place is buzzing and inspiring.

It’s been very good to be here again. And to have done a little writing, as well as some simple cottage maintenance.

 

 

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