|White frost in the Villuercas Mountains (Martin Kelsey)|
It was as if we had moved back in time by six weeks or more. Half an hour's drive away were deciduous trees in full leaf, Bee-eaters and Nightingales. But at this altitude the trees stood lifeless, moss-wrapped, and clinging onto the broken debris of ancient scree slopes, the woodland floor dressed with the grey-sandy tone of weathered fallen leaves. Nature seemed silent. Galls as large as snooker balls and appearing curiously armoured adhered to the branches. The road, now narrow and twisting, climbed even more steeply and as we looked ahead at the progressively more stunted trees coating the high ground, we were stuck by the beauty of white blossom, for it seemed that the elfin woodland above us was in full bloom. We stopped because this sight puzzled me. I knew this woodland well and this knowledge strongly contradicted what my eyes had been suggesting. The trees above us were the same deciduous oaks as those around us, but they would be even less advanced in their annual cycle, and besides they do not have white blossom. Despite this reasoning, it still took us time to work out what it was we were indeed looking at.
|White Frost (Martin Kelsey)|
|Ice as brush strokes (Martin Kelsey)|
We took a road that made a gentle descent, into woodland of slightly higher stature, but still seemingly clenched by winter. We could hear the ice falling from structures over a kilometre away across this still landscape. Here we encountered a winter foraging party of titmice, behaviour which weeks ago their congeners at lower altitudes had forsaken. And then looking down amongst the carpet of the large dry Pyrenean oak leaves, there were hints of yellow. Somehow, rising against the frost and dessicated leaves were winter aconites and tiny narcissi. Three species of the latter would be seen from where we stood: two of them widespread species which I had seen flowering at lower altitudes for over two and half months, but here were emerging nascent and fresh. The other was a diminutive form of the Rock Narcissus (Narcissus rupicola), a species I know from this same mountainside but closer to the peak and only then from mid-April onwards.
|Hoop Petticoat Narcissus (Martin Kelsey)|
|Rock Narcissus (Martin Kelsey)|
Two simple experiences had left us profoundly touched that day: to be present during the brief climax of the white frost (its only human witnesses that day) and the seemingly delicate but immensely powerful statement made by the yellow markers of spring amongst the leaf litter and lichens of the elfin montane woodlands.
|Angel's Tears Narcissus with dew drop (Martin Kelsey)|