The winter waxeth colde, as the old ballad says…
The woods in winter can be a foreboding place. An icy wind whips through you and sneers at your best efforts to bundle up with scarves and gloves. Bare trees house only a few menacing crows who caw forlornly. You feel there is a decent chance of being struck down with hypothermia, and the odds are strongly in favour of you losing several fingers to frostbite after even an hour outside.
On such days, it is good to be outdoors with children. Children are invincible to the cold. They don’t even seem to notice.
The temperature may be low, but spirits are high as Year 3 head out to see how the trees are faring in our fledging Jubilee wood.
‘Wooooo! We are the arctic explorers!’ they cry, as several jump in muddy puddles and skip across a waterlogged rugby pitch. One explorer losing his footing and barrels into a friend, who goes down giggling. I wonder if this is how actual arctic explorers behave when they manage to reach the North Pole. Let us hope so.
‘Do you know how polar bears sneak up on their prey?’ I ask. ‘They cover up their noses with a paw like this, so they look completely white in the snow.’ The children think this makes very good sense, and nod thoughtfully as I wait for the laugh that never comes.
Our aim this afternoon is to inspect the saplings, and see how they are bearing up in this bleak midwinter. Aside from a few snapped branches, they seem to be doing well. We inspect the wintery boughs, and children are surprised to see a few red berries and budding shoots appearing on the cherry and ash trees. Spring seems to be springing early this year. Not that you would know it today.
With flushed cheeks and frostbite surely setting in, our expeditionary force head on back to the bright lights and warmth of the classroom. On the way, we pass an old hollow oak tree and decide to see how many children can fit inside.
Standing inside an ancient tree is a strange feeling, like setting foot deep inside the earth. It feels slightly like being holed up inside a medieval iron-maiden, only with spiders and cobwebs inside instead of iron spikes. One cannot help but call to mind old stories of cursed witches being sealed up inside haunted trees. Enough to send a shiver down anyone’s spine, even without the chill February wind blowing.
They manage to fit seven inside, in the end. The children all seemed to enjoy it enormously, until I suggest that we ought to rethink the school’s discipline policy, and imprison naughty children inside for bad behaviour. At this point, they all run out squealing.
It’s certainly one way to keep warm in this bitter weather.