Orchard Jan

A frosty day. High pressure over Scandinavia brings dry air on light easterly winds. There is no hint of cloud in the winter blue sky.

A few weeks ago at midwinter even at mid-day the high walls cast a shadow that enveloped the orchard. Now in mid-January that shadow is in retreat, creeping southwards day by day so that by the equinox the whole place will be bathed in light. Already the south facing wall is in full sunlight. The old apple tree casts a skeletal shadow onto the stones, the fractal pattern of branches overlying the roughly rectangular courses. As I approach my own solid shadow interrupts the pattern cast by the tree – appropriately so, since my human presence has such an influence here: this is a human-made enclosure, with trees and meadow grass chosen, planted and tended by humans.

I feel the sun almost hot on the back of my neck; when I place my hand on the wall that same heat, stored within the stones, is warm to my palm; I imagine how it radiates back to the young apple and pear trees growing as espaliers close to the wall. Seeking contrast, I turn, walk across the grass into the shadow to the north-facing wall, and place my hand against it. The stones are icy cold to my touch; nothing will thrive against this wall. I am soon shivering, my fingers tingling, eager to return to the warmth.

Even in the sunshine, Earth has chosen a subtle, subdued colour palette for today. The sun draws out a silver grey on the lit side of the apple branches, casting the shaded side into deep greens and browns. The sharp light deepens the shadows in the joints between the stones; draws out the rich brown from the Bath limestone; and picks out patches of rich yellow lichen that pattern the walls.

There is little evidence of wildlife until a solitary crow flaps silently overhead, pitch black against the intense blue of the sky. A magpie follows in its more ostentatious flight, the light catching the pure white of its breast feathers and iridescent blue in its wings. Then I notice a single spider’s thread, not-quite straight and not-quite still, spanning two twigs of the apple tree. A silvery delicacy, it catches the light momentarily, then fades into the background.

Gradually, the direct light of the sun is obscured as it sinks toward its early winter setting. The colours fade with the light. Pleased to have caught this sunny winter day – heavy rain is forecast for tomorrow – I lock the gate and walk back to the house.