A good few feet of snow fell on the burial ground on Saturday 18 December. Although no more has fallen, and none is forecast until the end of the week, the sub-zero temperatures mean that it is unlikely to thaw over the next few days. Indeed, we are pretty much snowed in here in Whichford, and news from across the area is of very icy and snowy roads. We encourage people not to venture out to Sun Rising unless they are sure of the roads and driving 4x4s. We shall let you know just as soon as we feel the site is once again accessible.
It has been intensely frustrating, having cancelled our tree planting weekend, not being able to get all the trees in the ground. Today we were able to put in another few, two families arriving with snow on the ground, to find the burial ground on a day when it felt as beautiful as it does in the height of summer.
Just an inch or so of snow, crispy with frost, the temperature around -3 degrees C, under the surface the earth was still deliciously soft and almost warm. Tonight temperatures are due to plummet to well below zero with a foot of snow, and the forecast anticipates no rise above zero for some days, so there’ll be no planting for a while, I suspect.
Over the last week, however, we were able to plant around 20 memorial trees, and with the help of a friend visiting from the United States (where 15 foot of snow is not unusual – thank you, Kevin) we were able to get in all the saplings around the war memorial. We’ve used low tree guards in many plantings this year, and will see how they fare with the deer.
The trees around the pond have yet to be planted, but we are hoping now for a break in the weather between Christmas and the New Year to get these in and the majority of our other memorial trees. Not only are some families more available at this time, but we also have access to more volunteers.
This evening as we left the burial ground, with clear skies and the moon above, snow on the ground, the setting sun shone golden. It was quite breathtaking.
After a week or more with the burial ground under snow or hard frost, it was quite a change today to find almost all the white gone, and the grass showing once more. Our annual tree planting had been organised for this weekend, but over a week of such unseasonally cold temperatures, snow and ice, we felt sure the ground would be too frozen, and we cancelled. In the event, although today was indeed snow free, most of the earth was still frozen, and trees planted would not have been happy. Furthermore, the nursery was unable to release the bare root saplings, which were frozen into the beds. Those who are due to plant trees will be contacted as soon as we are confident that planting will again be possible. Tidying up after the snow, removing dead and frozen flowers, we noticed that a few animal pathways have become very evident. In the snow we’d seen prints from various creatures – four footed and two – especially, beautifully, over the frozen lake, and the habitual tracks were also still being used. Without the snow, one prominent one was easy to photograph.
Running from the northern boundary to the Roundhouse, this could be deer, fox or badger. We’ll let you know. The owls are once again using the inner lintel of the Roundhouse for lunch, leaving stains and remnants which we hope families don’t mind. I shall use the stone brush to tidy up the mess now and then, but doing so I am always glad to imagine the creatures in there, sheltering from the weather, eating one of the many little mice and shrews that thrive at the burial ground.
Yesterday in the early hours, while the north of the country was being covered in thick snow, a soft and beautiful flurry fell over Sun Rising. It was a day when a handful of families were coming to plant memorial trees, so we were momentarily concerned about the temperatures of earth and air. However, although the air, still and bright, was bitterly cold, the soil was still soft as butter a few inches below the surface. We planted the little saplings, with frozen fingers and misty breath, snuggling the roots in with grit and compost, and setting them into the tall green shelters.
The lake was frozen, and today, with no further snow but a much colder night, the snow that has fallen yesterday was crunchy with ice. I would add that any visitor should not attempt to walk on the ice, remembering that the lake is a good 3 metres deep. But it is a delight to stand beside it, particularly on bright days as today, when the winter skies are clear blue and seem to stretch forever.
This photograph is taken from the lake, looking up towards the Roundhouse and Sun Rising hill beyond. Perhaps memories of when this view is nothing but the rich greens and golds of summer, I can find an exquisite beauty in its soft white and blues.
Today the frost at Sun Rising was beautiful. It wasn’t deep enough to deter any tree planting, the sun quickly melting and warming the ground, leaving pools of frost in small areas of shade. With tree planting over the coming week or so, we are hoping the temperatures don’t drop any further, however.
I can’t walk as far as the lake, but the boys went down without me and reported back that it was frozen thick, as was much of the water in the brook. Already the first part of the season’s cycle is with us : I shall get them to take photos over the coming days of cold weather so that in the summer months, when the area is green and full of life, we can remember these cold white days.
At the birdfeeder we’ve been seeing a good number of tree sparrows – a newcomer to the feeder. With their sharp black cheek marks, they always seem very distinguished to me, as if smartly dressed. Some local pheasants have made a little circular run beneath the feeder, and walk around picking up the spilled grains, and it had grown muddy in recent weeks, but today it was frozen solid. It didn’t deter them though, and I watched them quietly and methodically walking their little circle, pecking at the earth.
Winter has arrived, and the grasslands feel quiet beneath the frost, but still there is a wonderful hum of life in the hedgerows.
Tuesday 16 November, and the burial ground was covered with a soft layer of white hoar frost in the early morning. By eleven, much of the surrounding countryside was still lost in a white cold mist, but the sun was shining over Tysoe and the ice had melted from all but the shadiest places. With a glorious blue sky, a few slow small tufts of white cloud, the reflections on the lake lifted the spirits. It was a beautiful English day, with the first real sense of winter. Around the hedges the rose hips are still abundant, as are the smoky indigo sloes on the blackthorn.
And for the first time at Sun Rising we saw a spotted woodpecker. We have often heard the green woodpecker, laughing in the trees, but seldom seen it. Today this bright soul flew down to the birdfeeder from the nearby ash trees, scaring away the little blue tits if only for a minute.
Today was Remembrance Sunday.
I sit by the fire at home as I type, and think of the men I love – none of whom have been conscripted, none of whom have had to go to war and fight. Although my father felt the worst of the blitz in London’s East End, his home razed by the bombing one night, he was a child. There are very many families locally who were horribly affected by the destruction of Coventry in WW2, and so many youngsters moving through Kineton CAD and local regiments who have seen dreadful conflict, but in the rural tranquility of South Warwickshire it is easy to forget.
Today we stood at the war memorial in Tysoe for the laying of the poppy wreaths and prayers, and I gave thanks again for the relative peace of our lives. How many generations over centuries have had the luxury of not losing fathers, husbands and sons in the chaos of war? So few. Unlike through so many centuries past, not every family is in that position today – and it feels so important to acknowledge those families who are losing loved ones now.
In order not to clash with the village event, we laid our wreath at the war memorial at Sun Rising on Thursday, 11 November. For five minutes or so at 11 am, four of us stood in silence and paid our respects. It was a beautiful moment. The stone cairn memorial felt raw in its newness compared with the lichen-covered stone of the old village memorials. But in many ways that is a reflection of Sun Rising and nature’s strength : in early December we shall plant a few dozen trees in a horseshoe around the memorial, guelder rose, dog rose and silver birch. And in the spring, when the earth at the cairn’s base greens with wild flowers and grasses, and the trees come into bud, my heart will lift again.
A friend was at the burial ground when I arrived after the village memorial service was done. A helicopter pilot in the army, he had driven up to Sun Rising on his motorbike to sit with his thoughts and feelings in the quiet of the place, to remember, at 11 am. Before he left, we hugged, and tears silently touched his cheeks, this strong man, this soldier. And I felt such gratitude again.
We planted two new honeysuckle to climb the beams of the Roundhouse (Lonicera periclymenum) today, as across the other side of the burial ground a family interred the ashes of a loved one, a few others visiting graves to share thoughts and tears, and I crept into the car to warm my aching fingers. Tears in my eyes, I tried and failed to count the birds on the big seed feeder near the car park. Flying in and out so quickly, there must have been nearly 30, little coal tits and bluetits sneaking in, feathers puffed up in the cold air, sparrows with their elegant confidence, chaffinches hiding amidst the rose hips and sloes in the hedge, greenfinches bickering, even goldfinches, some looking for the last of the seeds in the teasel heads. Life – so much life!
It seems appropriate for the first posting on our blog to be on Remembrance Sunday. So much of what we do at Sun Rising is about just that : whether we are working on the development of the nature reserve, helping a family arrange a funeral or cope with bereavement, or just cleaning the notice boards, we are remembering, with love and with thanks, all those who have gone before us. In Binyon’s words … At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.