The colours of the solstice
It's pre-dusk on the winter solstice. Thick and low clouds fill the sky. The dark is closing in. I set out to capture the last of the light before it does.
After the necessary grey stretch of road, I feel the ground soften under my feet. The rotting leaves, mud, and stones give way a little under each of my steps. I can sense the shape of the ground beneath my feet.
I follow the narrow, muddy path in the damp woods for a while - huffing and puffing as I go. My bare legs brush against the outstretched undergrowth.
The river to my right is perfectly still. A green-tinged mirror of its banks and the ever darkening sky.
The path leads me across the river. I race onto the bridge but am immediately stopped in my tracks as I do...
A sole singing robin. Close, but where?
Pausing my run, I seek out my red-breasted comrade among the leafless branches of the trees growing out from the riverbanks. It is a wonder that something so easy to hear can be so hard to see.
Eventually, I find it. Even closer than I had first imagined. On an outstretched branch only as far away as the width of this small bridge.
I tune in to the melodic sound, which seems friendlier than the territorial call is intended to be.
I am close enough to see its red breast rapidly rise and fall as its small lungs work hard at sound making.
Below me, the river remains calm and still. In front of me is that solitary naked willow again.
The light continues to fade.
I wonder, does my singing companion sense that today is the last day before dark gives way to light?
A minute or so passes before the robin dives and weaves to a lower branch, further inside the skeleton of the tree. I take my leave and start on again.
Across the bridge, I turn left off the main path and struggle my way up a rough track.
It is mild today, so I am heating up. And so has the soil. The normally white-topped, frost-bitten ground is loose. Ironically, the slippery mud behaves more like ice now than when it was frozen so I have to half step, half skate across the slope to stay on course and on my feet.
Soon enough I am over a stile and onto a narrow but level and leaf-strewn path.
Now I am free to run. I feel the cold mud flick up over my heels and onto my calves. Low branches rush past, giving me a deceptive sense of speed.
I top the slope, and feel the burn in my legs and lungs, before turning onto the flat gravel towpath. Beside the canal, I feel the solid surface under my feet and push off from this new firm ground.
The world has turned to the last shades of blue - the sky, the water, my breath are all blue.
Save for the gentle ripples on the water, all is still and quiet.
I pass a parade of canal boats moored on my left. From the ramshackle unnamed to the palatial "Grande Bleu" and the well-loved "Rosemary." The warming smell of log-fire smoke trickles out of their chimneys.
I settle into a rhythm towards my own home; feeling every step and grateful for the last of the light.
Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow will be longer. Tomorrow, winter will unwind.