As has become my custom of late, I make my way this morning into the back garden, the icy brittleness of grass and leaves giving way under my feet with a soft pleasing crunch. Step in one hand, a container of bird feed in the other, I am watched by unseen observers, their presence evidenced by a moving twig here and a rustle of leaf there among the hedging. All is still, although the quiet is punctuated by the raucous staccato caws of a magpie high up in the fir tree. I set down the seed and stand on the step to bring down the emptied feeder. It hangs on the branch of an old apple tree, the deadest looking thing in the garden. As I reach up, my eye is caught by something new today. The tiniest beginnings of a bud is forming at the end of a branch. As I look, I see one, two, more and more. The frost makes them look like tiny seed pearls kept in place by the gnarled bark. Even before the longest night of the year, a promise of change, of life to come.