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Country diary: new snow lay on wings of fungi

New snow on fungi in the woods
New snow on fungi in the woods. Photograph: Maria Nunzia @Varvera

Overnight snow left anonymous gifts. Frost and a chill wind through the trees hardened what remained of the snowfall as the weather moved on, to leave a scattering of unopened envelopes. Snow on fungi: there was something very symbolic about these two kinds of ephemeral structures. The Armilaria fungi living in the rotten stump of a tree may have been what killed it. The fruiting bodies of russet flesh that bloomed from fibrous mycelium, forming a circuit between tree cells and a kind of organic afterlife in the soil, were now holding a frozen package of snow.

After days of sogginess with bright moments, the return of snow felt revenant. It was too clear and pure, even in its fleetingness. In Among the Summer Snows, Christopher Nicholson talked about the literary obsession with the whiteness of snow and quoted Shakespeare when Juliet declares that Romeo “wilt lie upon the wings of night/ Whiter than new snow on a raven’s back”. Love transcends death, or something.

New snow lay on wings of fungi. The ravens here had shaken themselves from a dusting and were following territorial flightpaths to scan woods and fields for anything that had perished and to intercept buzzards. Birds were starving, rifling through moss, picking at buds, braced against the ache of morning. As day brightened, woodpeckers used the clarity of air to amplify their drumming on particularly resonating tree trunks, and the street slang of jackdaws and rooks agitated through the sky about something only they understood. The wood held its breath.

The one-step-forward-two-steps-back dance between winter and spring had time yet but many of the animals and plants had not. How many wrens or robins died; how many moths or flies? Later cold snaps sealed the fate of millions of Romeos and Juliets. Snow is free to go where it wants but pays for this freedom with impermanence; soon it will feel strange even thinking about snow. A thrush repeated a phrase of its song in defiance; only a fragment but it knew that if it could keep going the whole song would eventually flood out and the world would change. Open the white envelope.

This article titled "Country diary: new snow lay on wings of fungi" was written by Paul Evans, for The Guardian on Wednesday 14 February 2018 05.30am


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