Sunday, January 2, 2011

In the valley of the frost giants

I've had a wonderful first 36 hours of 2011.

It began with two delicious bottles of Champagne: our last bottle of Krug, and then something new to us, a 2005 Pierre Gimonnet & Fils.

The Krug, of course, is the king of Champagnes. It has a layered, aromatic, toasty arrogance. The Pierre Gimonnet was quite different: creamy, almost, but also complex and structured. Both made me smile like a lunatic. So did the food: beet salad (red and golden, over arugula, with a champagne and mint dressing), lamb stew (one of my favourites, just mind-bogglingly rich-but-delicate comfort food, best served with big chunks of wholewheat bread and the best butter you can find), pavlova.

Yesterday, before lunch, we went to the park.

The air was brilliant: hard, endless blue sky, glittering sun, crisp as an apple. We walked along Piper's Creek, which runs east to west along a narrow (30 yards?) valley with wooded slopes rising steeply on each side. The south wood is mixed deciduous: big-leaf maple and black alder mostly, with tangled vines of all variety at the water's edge. It's all bare now, black and grey and that severe winter brown, green only with moss and ferns sprouting from clefts between branch and trunk like little green fountains.

The sides of the valley are steep. The sun doesn't rise very high. Even just after noon on a clear day, the valley floor was in shadow. Everything was coated in a thick layer of frost, as though a frost giant had just breathed on it. I'd forgotten how dry frost makes things look, burnt and desiccated. The alder leaves could have been gigantic furry woodlice. Unreal.

It all felt quite magical, time out of time. The other people using the park seemed affected by it, too. Everyone wore hats, and striding about cheerily, calling out, 'Hallo!' and 'Good afternoon!'

Something on the south slope scampered among the bare trees: too large for a squirrel, too small for a raccoon. A marten? I heard it, but didn't see it.

On the walk back to the car, the sun hit the top of the bare trunks of the north slope, and they glowed gold and green. The birds were quiet.

We got home to find that the kerbs had grown, again:

And we ate enough to make a rhino stagger. Today I think I'll do it all again...

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