It is almost a quarter to two in the morning, and I’m sitting at my desk with a cup of peppermint tea, and the fire blazing merrily. I am very aware of my ears.
I am aware of my ears because they are still cold. It is snowing in my part of the Cotswolds, and I have been out for a midnight walk.
There is something peacefully exhilarating about wandering out into the darkness, leaving the lights of the little town behind me. For in the snow of course, the darkness is never quite complete (and I take a torch with me). All is cold and clear and calm, beneath a heavily blank sky. The only sounds are the wind in the trees, the crystalline stutter of falling snow, and the brook deep in the valley below. And my footsteps, crunching in the crisp blue-white blanket. When I turn to look back the way I have come, my footprints stride back beyond the bend in the road, already blurred by the fresh fallings, and crossed here and there by the tracks of a fox following the line of the road before he skulks down into the fields.
I stay beside the road, for the undulating valley is treacherous when you can’t see clearly how to place your feet, and I am known for being clumsy. I have no wish to be stranded in the freezing shadows with a sprained ankle. It is enough to share the valley with the fox, and the trees, and the few sleeping houses. It is enough to pause beside the blanketed camber of a dry stone wall, and stare across to the rising slope, the outlines of fields and trees marked black against the wide white covering. I stop often to stare, to drink it all in. I am well wrapped against the cold, and the wet, and my long coat swirls with the wind, and billows behind me with a pleasing sense of drama. (I know.) I am sure footed in my sturdy boots, and stride in a comfortable rhythm.
I walk, and I walk, and I stop, and I stare. The cold pushes thin fingers past my coat collar turned up to half cover my face, and the steady breeze blows through me. I feel as clear as glass, and wildly happy.
I walk to the next village. It isn’t far, but it’s far enough.
Returning, the path always seems shorter. Walking back towards the lights, away from the small freedom of being alone in the darkness, it is tempting to take a slower pace, to stand and stare some more. But my returning stride matches my outward bound pace, as I can tell by the faint indents where my feet trod before. The cold is penetrating deeper beneath my layers of warmth, searching for my skin. Snowflakes are catching in my lashes, and matting on my shoulders. And my ears, I am very aware of my ears, even beneath the woollen protection of my hat.
If the snow lasts – and if it deepens – then I will venture out at midnight again.