Escaping the rush hour traffic after watching the sunrise, I drove the car through narrow lanes, realising that I was following the map of memory. We passed through places to which we had walked as a family long ago, when the boys were just boys…. places where my son had walked long after he could no longer do so.
There were places where we had shared laughter with friends and people we have loved, some of them now living only in our hearts. Places where we had made memories, some seeming almost as ancient as autumn, others as fresh as spring. And as we drove, we found ourselves on higher ground where the sprinkling of snow had settled and turned the world to white.
We were lucky that the roads were reasonably clear as we climbed the hill that winds around Ivinghoe Beacon, to the modern remnant of the five-thousand-year old Ridgeway. Once it ran coast to coast, but towns and cities have broken the ancient trackway and the Beacon now marks its end.
Hoping that our luck would hold, and that we would be able to get back to the road, I risked the deep, snow-covered ice of a favourite parking spot. The view across the Vale to Dunstable Downs is usually highlighted by the white silhouette of the Whipsnade Lion carved into the chalk of the hillside. The distant hills, though, were uniformly white and beautiful in the light of the newborn sun.
Once again, I left Nick at the car to go for a short wander… although this time I did remember the boots behind my seat. The ice under the snow was far too dangerous to risk helping Nick to the gate where he had taken such momentous steps one May Day.
The shadows painted the snow in that curious shade that always has me itching for my watercolours. My mind wandered to wondering whether phthalo blue or ultramarine with just a touch of alizarin crimson would capture it best…
Then I was distracted by the mass of birds flitting through the branches and a plethora of prints in the snow.
The rabbits, deer and sheep tracks were obvious. You could see where a loner had wandered in to take shelter in the little copse, and where a number of them had gathered in a green cave beneath the boughs of a venerable holly.
There were no other human footprints, and no dogs up here… which was a real shame, as Ani would have loved it had we known the snow would be there… but I loved being able to track their movements undisturbed. One or two of them, though, I could not identify.
I loved being out there in the crisp, sparkling silence, knowing that unseen, all around me, were hidden lives. Some of them, perhaps, watching me from the shadows… others oblivious to my presence and busy with their own affairs.
As I retraced my path to the car, the footprints made me very conscious of how we walk the earth, surrounded by such beauty and so many mysteries that often remain unseen, or unnoticed. The seemingly empty landscape was brimming with life. My solitary prints were just one story written upon the snow… but they were part of a much greater dance of life, with each tiny foot adding something unique to the tale.
Another reminder awaited us as we left, the continuing direction of our journey now dictated by the snow and ice beneath the wheels. To force the car to turn on that skating rink would have been futile at best… so we followed where the day wanted to lead us… and, by accepting our destined journey, were about to find ourselves in fairyland…