Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Thaw

Having been up to Dartmoor the day before, it meant that one knew that the ice and snow must have melted at last. As last year, Telegraph Hill had been closed, the road that leads to the Haldon Hills from the east.
Up on Dartmoor, the landscape had been monochrome, and the roads turning to streams with borders of slush, as the suddenness of 7 degrees hit the frozen tors and moor. Around Widecombe there had been a shifting mist, sometimes turning to fog as huge amounts of melt water evaporated into the air. Stopping at Haytor Rock, on the way it been snowy, on the way back, huge patches of green showed new streams everywhere. The sheer amount of water meant that surely it would be sinking mud? No, the ground was hard, as if still frozen solid. Walking up the hill merely meant avoiding the many streams. At the top, as there was everywhere, a swathe of snow remained. It was untouched in many places, truly deep and crisp! and with a backdrop of the stone cliff. It was definitely snowball time! The crystal pure snow making wonderful instant compacted shapes. The fog lifted and drifted, darkening, and incredibly, within half an hour, the ground that had been firm turned to the mush that one had thought that much water should do. Boots splashed at every seemingly green patch of ground, and began to sink, where before they had not.

Up on Haldon ridge, it had melted almost entirely. The heaps of dirty snow were just where it had been piled to clear the roads. The paths were muddy, naturally, the adventure trail more of a stream, but the light was like a photographic studio. At a heady 10 degrees celsius, the Forest felt positively balmy in comparison to the previous wintry conditions, and many of the trees were livid green with mosses. Single dew drops hung from delicate branches in the thaw, and some of the barks of the thinner trees and saplings felt so mouldy and damp that they would imprint to the touch. They were shedding bark from the frosts, renewing themselves, perhaps?
Many of the most picturesque twists of roots and apoplectically writhen stumps were backlit with a soft dark light, their viridian greens sharply contrasting the with dark greys and browns and rusts of the January forest hollows. On the ridge, so much water vapour came off the pines that they looked as if they were smoking with a chill damp fire. The mist after thaw again.

On the path off the ridge that joins with the bridle path again, past the part where broken tiles (many tales of those!) lie recalling that lost folly landscape (that I have a fantasy was there), was a tiny palisade fence made of thin logs to the right. I went over to it - and it marked the top of a steep dip. Below in a beautiful shallow bowl of the forest, was an exquisite electric green tree, short, with its bare arms open in the shape of a many-fingered hand. There it was, the centre of a small fort, the ramparts defended with logs, the drawbridge the little palisade. A new feature - one of the amazing things about the Haldon Hills is not that they change so dramatically with light and shade, season, weather, time of day, but that there is always some new feature to be seen, whether by nature, an arts project connected to the Gallery, CCANW, or the Forestry Commission or - well, who knows? On one tree on the same path, there's a piece of bark hung up - which looks, whether by chance or design, exactly like a mask.

And then the day darkened - the cloud had come over the hill at last, and it began to spit a light rain. Back just in time before the heavier rains began...

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