This winter has been marked by mist and haze in long periods where the air has hardly moved. Today the mist is rising from the watery meadows between the two drains. The sun struggles through the bare branches of the willows along the road which crosses this curious gap in the world. The last light shines through the iron work of the long footbridge which stands above the low road. The tree branches and the rusted latticework of this lifeline across the threatened flood create a light show through the fog, twisting and segmenting it into long fingers which probe the rising mist. As the sun falls behind the land, its lava brightness becomes a neon point and then vanishes. Where the sky has rubbed against the hard-frozen land it is raw with icy pastels the colour of serum and bruises and blisters. The last sunlight has warmed us more than the content of its rays can account for and now it grows cold. The air is wet with mist. The ground is still frozen from the night before. A buzzard watches the thickening fog with disdain from a half-rotten fencepost.
The elements themselves are falling asleep. The Wind has fallen sleep and lies curled upon the fast-sleeping Earth. The fire of the sun has fallen asleep. The Water seems asleep in the river, like metal cooled and polished. The Water is curled together with the Earth, asleep on the grass and between the grains of soil. The Water sleeps in the arms of the Wind, in tender white curls turning grey and black. The Water sleeps in the face of the sun, stroking its last warm colours away with the mist rising, rising. The Water has put the whole world to sleep as fog rises past the level of my eyes and tries to stroke me to sleep with its cruel penetrating fingers. But the Water is not asleep at all. The water slips silently in the bed of the steely river like a slow, silent and invincible fist. It runs deep under the Earth in secret streams stealing the warmth away. It creeps silently across the sky pulling its blanket with it. It fills my lungs with its soft chilling voice. There are moments in the fens when the air is not simply still. It is as though the air itself has been startled by some predatory presence and all motion stops. The little hunter at my ankle, who speaks the language of the world and its spirits more cunningly than I, touches my calf with his nose. Time to leave, he says.
As I walk back to the Night Planted Orchard, which sits a few metres above the fen, I can see the mist lying on the Earth, still rising. The stillness of the air is more chilling than any blizzard. The water spirits walk silently, dancing and playing their slow games in the bitterest of colds: that cold just around freezing where water can do its most cunning work. The spirits walk among the hazy trees. They dance inside the hayricks and break their backs. They toy with the poles across the fens, making them slant at crazy angles. They work in the Willows, breaking them and laying them on their invincible backs. At last, as the light itself flees the world, the ice spirits wander from teasel to teasel, from reed to reed, from tree to tree, from grass stalk to grass stalk and sip sip sip the last colours from their dead leaves turning them paler and paler over this cold winter, until at last they turn to glass and shatter.
I see our reflections in the window as we enter and both the little hunter and I are a little greyer, him around his muzzle, me around the fringes and the ice starts to form beguiling and beautiful mocking patterns from our breath upon the glass, hiding the reflections. Hiding the evidence.
Out in the still, silent fen, something makes a noise, not unlike a screech, not unlike the call of some frozen hunter, not unlike laughter.