NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

From our windows, the countryside looked a picture. Overnight fields and hills had been
smothered with a huge gleaming duvet of snow and on several occasions hoar frosts
transformed every twig and blade of grass into glistening Christmas decorations. Dorset
doesn’t often get big falls of snow and for the first few days, it was difficult not to be
enchanted by its beauty, though maybe such people as farmers had other views.
Snow has one great advantage – it’s a track trap. Freshly fallen, it is clear to see the fragile
arrows left by birds’ feet or little finger-shaped outlines of a wood mouse. A rabbit moving at
speed leaves two large impressions from the back legs, often one in front of the other, and two
more in front of them, usually close together. A badger’s footprint is quite distinctive with its
broad pads and five forward pointing toes, whilst the cloven feet of a deer are easy to pick out.
Once the snow becomes hard and freezes over, things become more difficult – for the animals
I suspect, as well as for nature detectives. Shortly after the first fall, I was daft enough to
render my own foot incapable of leaving any footprints, so I relied upon other people to tell me
what was going on in the great outdoors whilst I hopped around inside.
Friends reported a flock of 40-50 fieldfares devouring the fallen apples in their garden. Among
the flock there was a snipe – most unusual for this part of the world, though someone else also
had had one in her garden the week before. Redwings swooshed down on a neighbour’s
pyracantha and had it stripped in no time. A pheasant wandered into the garden of another
friend, threw back its head in a theatrical sort of way and died. Perhaps the cold was just too
much for it. Mr Bocellii became such a rare visitor that on several occasions we feared the
worst, but just as we were preparing to get the black ribbons out, up he popped again.
Another bird character entered our snow filled garden – a smart little pied wagtail, aka Anton
Du Beke because of his elegance and immaculate black and white ballroom-type plumage. He
runs around at an enormous rate of knots, frightening off all the other ground feeders who get
in his way. Crusts and crumbs thrown onto fresh snow meant that the birds disappeared up to
their chests whilst they were trying to retrieve them, so Brian found a piece of board and put
them on that instead. The freezing temperatures didn’t stop them bathing. As soon as we had
thawed out their water, they first drank, then wallowed!
What a marvellous autumn it was for colour – and I don’t just mean leaves. Stems of the
dogwoods glowed, fruit still clung onto the trees and the hedgerows were bejeweled with
sloes, hips, haws and wild apples.
There’s an old saying that a good harvest of fruit and nuts is an indicator of a hard winter to
come, so all those believers in that particular piece of folklore would have been rubbing their
hands in glee at the winter that we have had so far.
I’m doubtful that it bears much truth. It’s much more likely to have been the result of a good
preceding spring with no killer frosts to finish off the flowers before they had a chance to set
fruit. However you look at it, it was a good job that there was a plentiful supply of food for the
birds as the temperatures plummeted to record-breaking lows. The real causalities were
probably the raptors who are reliant on catching small mammals. Little mammals often take
to tunnelling beneath the snow when the weather is bad so buzzards, owls, kestrels and their
cousins may all have suffered. It’s far too early to tell but I hope they’re all right. The skies
over the village won’t be the same without the mewing of a buzzard on a warm day.

About Margaret

Margaret WaddinghamI was born in Middlesex in 1935 and educated at a convent in Rickmansworth. In 1954 I moved with my family to Cranleigh in Surrey where I met and married Brian. We have two daughters and five grandchildren.
For 21 happy years we lived on the outskirts of Guildford, moving to Hatherleigh in North Devon when our children had fled the nest to get on with their own lives.

My love of writing goes back many years but it was not until I retired from RHS Rosemoor Gardens in 1995 that I was able to devote more time to this and my other favourite pursuits, gardening and the countryside.

For many years I was a regular contributor of short stories, poetry, nature and other articles to three women’s national weeklies, periodical regional magazines and local newspapers. I also had a book of the history of a neighbouring village and a couple of books of poetry published.

One day our daughters phoned to suggest, very gently, that they couldn’t get to us quickly in an emergency and that’s how we ended up in Stourton Caundle.

We couldn’t have chosen a better place and although Brian sadly passed away in 2018, I have come to appreciate the village more and more.

Genevieve (my mobility scooter for those who haven’t met us) and I wander the local lanes, drinking in all that is around me and when I can no longer do this I will still have a small, peaceful garden to sit in where nature comes to visit me.