The cascading catkins of January


What a beautiful time of year January can be.  Today was meant to be ‘blue Monday’ but I refuse to be convinced by this mindset.  As I walk quietly beside the river Stour, the bright blue sky illuminates a countryside brimming with new beginnings.  It has been a quiet and benign month so far; warmer and drier than usual allowing long adventurous walks to savour the clean air and wispy light that grows more intense and lasts two minutes longer each day.

The architectural splendour of large oak trees line the curvature of the hills whilst my favourite riverside trees assume a new hue as their perfectly formed catkins dangle like chandeliers, heralding the buds of spring.  I love them as they catch the light.  Catkins seem to be magicked into arriving suddenly.  One minute the trees are bare, the next these delicate droplets light up the hedgerow; purple-maroon for alders and silver birch, and golden green for  hazel; all made up of individual flowers and gently pollinated by the wind.


Quite often people bemoan this rogue month, or see it as mid-winter; gloomy, dull and colourless, but this is not the case.  It is just that you must look a little harder to appreciate the shades; the orange fronds of the willow trees and the cardinal reds of the dogwoods.

The wood pigeons are already pairing up and doing their comical bobbing mating rituals; male wrens begin their search for nest sites to satisfy their females, and the chaffinches are shining with the onset of their breeding plumage.  In fact, January is resplendent with bird-life, the reed-beds are bustling with waders whilst starlings from the East arrive to give us their unique murmurations that colour the sky black with great tidal waves of life that drop into the vegetation.  There are also flocks of lapwing, chattering fieldfare, redwing and snipe that hunker down in the sodden marshes, plus groups of tiny long-tailed tits who huddle together to fend off the cold.

January is, without doubt, one of my favourite times; the only time in the year when anything seems possible.  All the hopes and dreams for 2019 are concentrated into an imagined reality and elaborate plans are made.  The future is clean and bright.  Despite the political nonsense and ecological Armageddon that is around us, the new year clicks in with the tick-tock of familiar changes that tell us that all is well and spring is only weeks away.  The first snowdrops appear and spring bulbs emerge through the ground; beacons of life that light the way.

I leave the banks of this stealthy, silent river and make my way home as the sun dips lower in the sky and the full moon begins to rise.  Feeling refreshed, it is time to go home, light a fire and settle down for the night, tomorrow is a new day.