Country diary 1920: winter brings out primitive instincts

Winter, when it binds and frosts the earth, pasture and fallow alike, brings out primitive instincts in living things. Cattle that a few hours since went to the great pond and waded in its shallow water before they drank, shrink at the sight of a broad sheet of ice along whose edge timorous waterhens creep cautiously; their limbs tremble, apprehension is in their eyes, they stoop their heads and draw in breaths of misty air as though to imbibe courage before they venture near. Birds flock in unwonted places, wood-pigeons blue in the middle of a white field, rooks away in a meadow from where a noise comes like talking; restless peewits fly here and there with melancholy cries.

Now, with a shift of wind, the old life comes back, the mould melts, “earth is all a-sweat”, the ploughman says; the wood drips; pools stand upon the chalk like big watery dropped beads, and spread only when a wagtail splashes through them; the clean flints shine as an open bed of precious stones, diamonds in the sun where they are not blue as fragments of the sky. The soft wind rustles heaps of fresh-strewn oak leaves; an hour later it has tossed them. Anything may lie behind that western bank of cloud.