The other evening we chatted about removing the fleecy jackets that cosset the delicate plants around our garden. In pots mainly, our fragile ones, prima donnas with slender leaf tips poking through, giggling, a royal wave. There’s a racy fatsia japonica in particular, who just has to stick her seven fingered limbs out from under her kimono, a shapely thigh revealed through a high-slitted skirt. But the threat of frost has not passed and Her Kimononess gets gently ushered back in. Good thing too; this morning we had a real nippy belter, with those interlocking palmate leaves of ice fronding together across our windscreen and a crackly hoar frost on the fence, sharp to touch, Christmas trees in miniature; and a stillness all around – the birds wise to warmth, the worms unable to break through, feeding time delayed.
The best morning for a walk these: the dog hares off, with no fear of a Blacker Shade of Dark and similar ditties, and the boots, well, the crunch. It may not be golden, but it certainly is delicious, cracking through frozen puddles, scuffling off the icy crowns on the grass with a deft side foot out to the left wing. Leaves hang lower under the weight of the ice and the white hawthorn blossom, which is coming out round here, shimmers mesmerically under its coat of cold. But the best of it all are the footprints. Down near the gate, in the lee of the rosehip hedge, cancer ridden with brambles, no light can get through and it’s properly cold there. It’s something of a crossroads that bit – one path snaking down off the hill through the holloway as I call it, another skirts around the spring line, bisecting it.
And there are the footprints, boot marks, frozen. It brings to mind the fossilised tracks in the Great Rift Valley. Last night’s imprints, frozen fleetingly by the first frost, captured in a freeze-frame instant before the rising sun oozes them into history. Maybe there’s a parallel world where they exist in stone and academics get frothy and excited, little knowing they were formed only last night. Or perhaps there’s a different way of experiencing time, in slow motion. In that world, we are in the grip of an ice age and strange footprints have been discovered in the permafrost, experts arguing about their origins. An imprint of peoples’ lives all the same, captured momentarily then lost.