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Frosty Morning

Saturday, 22nd December 2001, West Yorkshire

redwingTHE SLOPES of Lowe Hill, in Thornes Park, Wakefield, are streaked with white frost, the soft turf frozen rock hard. The crispness underfoot is matched by the crisp detail as the low sun, shining from a clear blue sky, brings out saturated colour, like a Kodachrome slide, in the trunks and branches of bare trees.

There's a brightness in the birds too; Jay raises the crest on its head and a Nuthatch - a bird I rarely see - hops from the trunk of a cherry tree to a holly. Amongst the Blackbirds, Crows and Mistle Thrushes feeding on the ground there's a single Redwing, a winter visitor which I'd normally expect to see with others of its kind.

A Shaman at Sainsbury's

As I walk around the front of the Sainsbury's store I'm puzzled for a moment by the sight of a crouching figure framed by cut-out reindeer antlers.

The figure of a man wearing an antler head-dress appears in cave art and he crops over the centuries in a variety of guises - such as Herne the Hunter, a ghostly presence who Shakespeare refers as haunting Windsor Forest at around midnight in winter. The Shaman, a village sorcerer, wore an antler head-dress when he presided over the winter solstice revels in parts of Europe until as late as, perhaps, the 16th century, when the revels were supressed by the church.

Some of the magical powers of the Shaman were transferred to St Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of Myra, in what is now Turkey.

It's now generally accepted that the red and white costume worn by Santa Klaus (to give St Nicholas his Dutch name) next page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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