Call me rash, call me foolish, but I’ve dared to dream of Spring lately. Although the weather here has been brutally changeable these last few weeks going from tentative bright morning sunshine, to freezing sideways sleet in a matter of hours, the scent of it is unmistakably in the air. The days are slowly stretching out, and the devil black nights are getting shorter. As I write this it’s just a few weeks until the equinox – the 2oth March, the date when day and night are of equal length. Yes, the long slog of Winter is showing signs of drawing to an end, and our farm and the wondrous nature that permeates through every single acre of it is beginning its annual spectacular awakening.
The word Spring never seems beautiful enough to adequately describe this most wondrous of seasons by the way. It doesn’t roll off the tongue well enough. It’s a syllable too short. I prefer the Welsh word for it – Gwanwyn. Like many Welsh nouns, it seems to me to fit better than the English. It sounds softer. Less harsh. It sounds more like the season itself. It’s a more appropriate word to illustrate a time of joyful rebirth and revival, of leaving darkness behind, and entering the light.
Buds are appearing on the three hydrangea bushes outside our farmhouse door, that my Grandfather planted in the 1950s. Throughout the passing Winters they appear as ancient and brittle skeletons, clinging tenuously onto life for all they’re worth, attracting nothing but blown around dead leaves and straw. But now new leaves are appearing and they’re getting stronger every day, ready for their full resurrection into a festival of pink and blue flowers come May. It makes me think of him when they’re in bloom.
The Snowdrops have already been and gone, taking their false promises with them, and the fragile purple Crocuses are making their all too brief appearance in the garden that my Mother planted and built, and put her heart and soul into when her and my Father lived here. The first of the Daffodils that greet visitors at the entrance of our farm are in flower, making me smile every time I return, and attracting the first of the awakening Bumblebees on the warm March days. These are the Queens which have miraculously survived the Winter, and are searching hungrily for nectar in the emblem of this part of the World.
In the miles of our ancient hedgerows, the buds of hawthorns are bursting forth, with new green leaves soon to appear, which will be followed by their lovely creamy white flowers in late April. I saw the first of the soft yellow Wild Primroses that grow underneath them on the banks yesterday, and I couldn’t help but smile. I know where they all are on our farm, where there’s several, and where there’s just one, and I look out for them every March. Along the river bank the wild garlic is starting to flourish, and will soon cover the stretch that runs alongside our farm lane with it’s star-like white flowers and distinctive smell. After a warm Spring shower you can smell it in the farmyard. It is the aroma of home.
Migrant birds are returning in waves. ChiffChaffs are always one of the first, joyfully singing their names from the tops of the trees from early March. Swallows, Swifts, Cuckoos and Nightingales will soon be making their homes on the farm again. The Rooks are back nesting in the rookery in the back field, where it’s been since time began, and Robins are hopping along the garden wall outside our kitchen, much to my children’s delight. Birdsong is building slowly to it’s peak wherever you listen, and the dawn chorus is getting louder and more triumphal by the day.
Deep underground in their dens and setts right now, both fox and badger cubs are being born, ready to emerge later on in Spring. Squirrels are becoming more active, I see them scampering amongst the ancient Oak tree boughs in the wood at the back of the farm. Mad march hares are a sight to behold, and if you’re lucky as I have been on two occasions, you may see them stand up and box, thoughtfully and athletically like middle-weights, in the mid-day Sun. A sight I will never forget until my dying day. I love to see a Hare loping along a field. The sight of them briefly makes me think that all is right with the World.
In the farmyard and buildings, our Cattle are beginning to smell the grass growing. They lean over the gates in the morning sunshine and bellow towards the fields, before returning back inside to their warm straw beds when the icy showers return. But they know it won’t be long now. It’s nearly time. When we’re amongst them, sorting them or bedding them down, extra vigilance is needed as they skip around the sheds full of the joys of the season, kicking outwards as they leap into the air. It is wonderful to see. They are losing their thick hairy Winter coats, and look sleek and muscular as they walk around the yards. At many of our neighbours farms lambs bound and skip around the fields in the Sunshine, and huddle under the hedges when it rains, cavorting and bleating as they go, and testing their Mothers patience. It is the sound of new life. It is the sound of Spring.
There are many festivals at this time of the year, going back to the dawn of time, before organised religion. On Palm Sunday, in this part of the World known as Sul y Blodau, it was always the custom to decorate the graves in the churchyards with flowers as preparations for Easter, and the resurrection. After the darkness of Winter, and the solemnity of Lent, it was also the time to put on new clothes. Graves were often cleaned and weeded, before being decked with garlands of Rosemary, Rue, Crocuses, Daffodils and Primroses in fanciful displays and patterns. My Father and I recently found my GGG Grandparents grave in an abandoned and overgrown hillside cemetery. They left this life over 150 years ago, but people once held and loved them, and I put flowers on their beautiful Welsh headstone, with an oak leaf pattern around the top, and felt a deep connection. Spring is the time for these things.
I have saved my favourite sign of this time of year for last. In late April the Bluebells come. There is a woodland glade a few fields away from our farm, that few know about, and even fewer visit. For a short period at this magical time of year, it is carpeted with them, and if you visit in the morning you can see the Sunlight dance seductively on the dew clinging to the cobwebs that connect them. Three generations of Evans men have picked them for their Wives from here. It is something special and unique, and it fills my heart with joy when I see them for the first time every year. It’s no wonder to me that in the old times, the people of these islands worshipped for so long amongst the trees, in these sacred hollows surrounded by nature. It makes perfect sense.
The long Winter and it’s frigid darkness has the countryside in it’s battered and well-worn work clothes, tired, lacklustre and downcast. But Spring – Gwanwyn – has it in it’s pristine Sunday best. Light, colour and hope have finally returned, and now is the time to celebrate nature and it’s glorious rebirth once again. It truly never fails to astound.