There is much to enjoy about January if you only look for it, says Kate Humble

The welcome I get from my animals makes it all worthwhile.

It is tricky to feel buoyant in January. The wear and tear of Christmas have taken their toll. The new year hangover has only reminded you that you are not as young and resistant to late nights and excess as you once were. Stretching ahead is a rather joyless month of detoxes, diets and no booze. The days are still short and dark, fields have become quagmires and the countryside takes on that rather exhausted look it has when it has been putting up with soggy weather for too long. Energy levels are low, not helped by the Christmas bills which never seem to stop coming, and hauling bales of hay across swathes of liquid mud feels like a Herculean task.

So I’ve taken up the challenge of finding reasons to be cheerful at this resolutely uncheerful time of year. I’m a morning person. I love getting up at a time most people think is still pretty much the middle of the night, although I struggle to stay awake to watch the 10 o’clock news. But even I, a revoltingly hearty soul at 6am, can find it hard to summon any enthusiasm for leaving my duvet on a dark, cold morning, with the rain hammering down on the skylight. But once outside, swathed in trusty waterproofs and mud-caked wellies, the welcome I get from my animals makes it all worthwhile. Oh, I know, it’s cupboard love, but there is, nonetheless, something wonderfully life affirming about being greeted by the eager bleats of a woolly flock racing towards you – and your sack of feed – looking properly grateful that you have made the effort. Even chickens, not the most demonstrative of creatures, cluck with apparent delight that you are there… and as for the pigs! Well, if there is a better way to brighten a winter’s morning than getting down into the straw for a cuddle with a contented sow, I’d like to know what it is.

Then there are the wild birds, that bring a flurry of colour and energy to my otherwise lifeless-seeming garden. I have feeders hung up outside the kitchen and, because we live on the boundary between pasture and woodland, we get a wonderful variety of avian visitors. Our first winter, a bird came to the feeder I’d never seen before. It looked a little like a chaffinch in a party outfit. I looked it up. It was a brambling. We have a pair of bullfinches that make regular forays into the garden, sometimes little flocks of long-tailed tits, and often great spotted woodpeckers. The dark mornings are accompanied by the trilling of a robin; the dark evenings by the hoots of the tawny owls.

There are even advantages to winter dog walks. A friend remarked the other day that it is better to be out in bad weather than looking at it and, as smallholders, we all know – and have tested – the adage that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. And the lovely thing about having dogs to force you out every day is that you become aware of small changes in the natural world to give you hope. One day you might spot a snowdrop and, in very mild years, I’ve even found wood anemones and celandines in January. Once I witnessed a murmuration of starlings – one of those other-worldly sights – a dark, swirling, dancing cloud of birds sweeping across the horizon. Not a sign of spring, but a winter wonder to make you smile, nonetheless. So, you see, there is much to enjoy about January. Our next challenge is getting through February.

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