As the days lengthen the cold strengthens, is an old country saying. February brings the severe frosts and the snow . . .
Hedging and ditching, lopping and clearing: these are February's work, for they can be done in frost and cold, when the blade of the plough would fail to turn the hard, resisting earth, and the litter lies in the farmyard, so it cannot be carted into the fields.
The hazel undergrowth is thinned and stacked into faggots and bavins and left to 'dry out' in the coppice. Through the woods comes the sharp snapping sound of the chopping of small branches, broken occasionally by the distant boom of a falling tree. There is no quietness in the thickets just now for the little things of the earth, the rabbits, foxes and hares . . .
Gaunt willows border the mill stream. The piles of willow hurdles for the sheepfold are wearing low. So the farmer lops. The grim, individual shapes of the willow trees lean in a row over the black unfrozen waters of the running stream, seared and wrinkles, like a family of mourners . . .
But the farmer sits throughout the long evenings in the farm kitchen, slowly and with many falterings, making out his plans for the year. There is no beginning and no end to this year of his . . .
Extract from Clare Leighton, The Farmer's Year