I've had a really rough couple of months and it has hardly started yet - there are the really tough times to come.
Anyway, after dropping my sister off at Gatwick airport in the dark, we got home to a spectacular January dawn spread out across the sky. I couldn't settle and went for a walk down to Ankerwyke; an ancient estate now owned for the nation by the National Trust. This time last year it was all flooded in the first of the two great floods.
This time I just had things to think about.
They are starting to lay hedges again;
It's quite late in the year but not too late. It happens every few years; you cut the hedge at the base but not all the way through and you bend down the branch to interlock with it's neighbour and tie everything to a framework made out of the trimmings.
The little miracle is that the branches sprout again in the spring and the hedge grows up into a tight fence which keeps animals in without hurting them.
It's not a skill which you ever saw in this area; our hedges were very rough and ready and they were dominated by gnarled old pollarded willows.
They make an unforgettable sight, especially when you see the twisted branches through a misty dawn. Unfortunately they have all but disappeared now and so too the people who used to keep them cut back - another lost skill.
The willows also used to drain the floodplain in the summer. Instead, the Trust have imported skills from other regions.
Here you can see the detailed work they do and also some very early catkins - flower buds that give a hope of spring.
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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