January brings the snow; the rain; the wind; and bright days which feel like someone decorated the first breath of spring with the ice needles of winter. As an all-season pedestrian, I've walked through all this and more so far this year; frosty mornings where the river steams mist lit gold by the low sun; dismal afternoons where grey rain seeps steadily up your trousers and the wind plays parachute with your umbrella. Throughout all this I've been seeking out the signs of spring, to record (as I do whenever I remember) on nature's calendar, citizen science's record of the changing seasons. Elder bud-burst; 2nd January, in that sheltered bit by the river. Hazel flowering, 17th January on the hedge I planted at Janet's this time last year (it's doing well!). Snowdrop, 24th January, in my own back garden, but not where I remember planting snowdrops. They've wandered, as some flowers do.
On my wanders, on the bright crisp days with dazzling low sun, the overwhelming smell is of the soft brown mulch of deciduous leaves rotting, under hedges, in gutters, the smell of the richness of soil being made; damp earth; worms.
Colours this time of year occupy the same rich yet muted palette; brown of soil, grey of sky. The green that there is has a lot of grey mixed in, a lot of dun. The beauty is in the sere remnants of last year's flowers, interrupted by the occasional explosion of Mahonia.
Dear Mahonia, yellow flames in the winter, chasing the cool white light of modern streetlamps upwards. I love its unruly hugeness, its unapologetic spikiness. It's summer in winter; but far more surprising is the sudden explosions of scent that grab your nose as you walk by an unremarkable evergreen bush just hit by the morning sun. Sweet box, Christmas box, Winter Box - Sarcococca is having its moment.
January is Sarcococca, cutting sweetly through the smells of winter rot and leaves and mud, tempting out hibernating bees and beetles for a taste of summer in winter's depths. It will fade, as the first bright spring beauties start to seize our attention, but it owns the short days of January, sweetness in the chill.