Pale memories abound at this time of year. One continues to surface, triggered by a red velvet bow on a Christmas present. The same colour as my winter mittens from long ago. My mother knitted them when I was six, the wool soft as the moss at the base of the oaks at the end of our garden. Wearing them was like covering your hands in hundreds of tiny little feathers.
‘They’re the same colour as the red breast of a robin,’ said my mother. ‘If you go into the woods at the end of the garden you might just see one.’ It suddenly became very important to find this little bird that was the same colour as my mittens. I put on my coat, my boots, and of course, my mittens and stepped outside.
It was one of those winter afternoons where the air is so cold it momentarily takes your breath away, where the freshly fallen snow on top of the hardened, icy snow forms a mosaic of texture and colour. Powder, ice, silver, blue and white.
Snowboots punched through the top layer of brilliant white, creating furrows cast like waves. Breath rose like a newly extinguished candle, soaring to the opaque sky. Trees huddled at the end of the garden. The snow on the branches was wet, dripping, forming icicles. I wondered if the ice that came from snow was sweet or sour.
The woods were quiet. It was another world. Like being in a tent. The stream had frozen over. I worried about the fish I saw swimming there in the springtime. I hoped they didn’t end up frozen and stiff like the ones Aunt May cooked in a bag in a boiling pot of water. I liked to see their long tails flicking through the water.
I heard a bird calling – sweet yet mournful, like it was singing about life and death all at once. Then I saw it. Bright, orange-red breast, face and throat edged with grey. Little white tummy. It was perched in the hedgerow like it was waiting for the lowering of the light. It looked at my mittens, fluffed up its breast. The colours matched. For a moment I felt like I was in a woodland painting and the robin and I were fashioned by the same brush. I was as happy as I have ever been.
I heard my mother calling. I turned to answer. When I looked back the robin was gone but his song rang through the trees. It was melodious as a nightingale. The robin was gone but my mittens remained, redder and brighter than before. I held them to my face, awash with love, ignoring the crisp bite of the air as I waited to hear once more, the robin’s song.