In the longest January that anyone can remember, at a time when horrific news assails us from all sides, I’ve taken to starting my day by reflecting on three things for which to be grateful. And this isn’t an exercise in ‘mustn’t grumble’ or ‘could be worse’ or pretending that everything is alright when it isn’t; more, it’s a reminder of the eternal truth that things change, seasons move on, oceans ebb and flow, the sun is now rising higher in the sky every day. Our fortunes ebb and flow, too, but it’s hard to keep reminding ourselves of that, when the darkness seems at its most intense and never ending.

Last weekend I was grateful for the good weather and the long walks we were blessed with. I tried to pay attention to the birds and I was amazed at how many robins crossed our path. It seemed that from every hedgerow a little red breast was flashing and little dark eyes were watching. From others I could hear the clear, sweet, almost melancholy notes of a robin’s song.

And I was grateful.

Many birds are out and about these days if we look for them. I see the little wren trying to hide her magisterial glory in the long grass of a ditch. I see the erect mistle thrush stand tall on a lawn, proudly hopping around in search of sustenance. There are small flocks of redwings and fieldfares in the fields around here – migrants fleeing the permafrost of the far north. There’s the loyal blackbird, often screeching his melodramatic danger call while scurrying away. Chaffinches, sparrows, blue tits, great tits, wagtails – they’re all out and about, busying themselves in the short days.

As I paid my respects at the local cillín last week (on the week that was in it), I saw an elusive goldcrest, Europe’s smallest bird, flitting about among the colourful ribbons tied to the hawthorn bush at the entrance gate. His wonderful little crown of yellow, gold and black adorning his head. I thought: how fitting: that the tiniest of birds was on duty at the entrance to a place where our tiniest and most vulnerable were laid to rest in even bleaker times.

I walked under a gathering of sociable rooks, perching on the high branches of oaks. I noticed that they were very obviously in pairs, apart from some younger ones. And I was reminded that they will be building nests soon, as they did this time last year and the one before that and the one before that; and as they will do early next spring and the one after and the one after that, and far into the future, long after our worry of pandemics and politics and memories of our shadowy past have faded to nothing. New life is coming again, even during the cold dark wet peril of these times. I see daffodils in bloom here and there, I see colour on the buds of the camelia at the back of our house. It’s coming, it’s all coming again.

And I am grateful.

The rook has not forgotten what’s around the corner. We – in the terrible din of our troubles (and we do have troubles)  – can understandably forget the longer, warmer, brighter days to come and new younglings to be fed and sheltered and fledged, new duties to perform. The robin doesn’t forget, either, and that’s why he sings from the hedge in your back garden, from the holly tree down your road, from the ash tree at the edge of your town, from the side of the stream and the edge of the forest in the distance.

Today it looks like rain all day and I may not get much of a walk in, but tomorrow may be better. And I know that if it is and if I can get out, that I’ll  come across a robin, singing of better days to come.

And I will be grateful.