Daybreak on Boxing Day. Cool, calm air; a sky mostly clear of cloud. That restful feeling of the morning after the night before. The wind and rain delivered by Storm Barbara on Christmas Day had skimmed past and the world was sleeping in. As the sky lightened from the east above The Rookery, long streaks of cloud lit up like glowing embers on logs rekindled by the approaching sun.
Something was passing with the Rooks. They were up and abroad early. As the dogs and I made our first pass of the trees, they returned above us making enough noise to scare away the spirits of the dwindling dark and with them the fears of the long winter night. The world was theirs again. The tawny owls were silent; the jackdaws nowhere to be seen.
The rooks were still at it when we passed by on our way home. I paused and watched them in the throes of what could have been the corvine equivalent of our Boxing Day hunts - all excitement and chatter as they rode the canopy, breaking the surrounding silence. I put aside the automatic enquiry of what was happening and why and just watched, enjoying the pell-mell.
Leaving the rooks to it, I followed the path homeward and their sound subsided. We reached the crossing of a holloway and its parallel hawthorn-dotted modern track which connects the hamlet of Norton with Foxhole. Here, by the line of hawthorns, a meditative moment. It is chilly - maybe 5° Celsius - and yet a cloud of winter gnats hung in the air, silent, rising and falling in waves, peaking and troughing as though the countryside was gently sleeping, breathing out, in, out, in.
These midges are males, dancing to attract females. They hang around the protection of the hedge or in a state of torpor, emerging in low light when it is mild and quiet. It is mesmerising to watch them, trying to pick out an individual from the cloud and follow it as it rises and falls in a starling-like murmuration. Rise and fall, like breathing. It's still early. I'm the only person around. I have the world to myself. It's a good time to take a breather. To just be instead of be going somewhere. The cloud shares its gift: a lesson in pausing and noticing the rythmic rise and fall of the breath, the ability to let everything else fall away and focus only on the self. Nothing matters beyond the hypnotic, rhythmic dancing cloud. Just breathe and be at one with the world.