Earlier this month, I was treated to the nice sight of four planets in a line stretching from east to west. It was shortly before seven in the morning, even before the Robin had begun its song, and cold. In the clear sky I could easily make out the brightness of Venus followed by Jupiter, with Mars a dull red and distant Saturn the faintest of the four.
Such a sight has always imbued me with a feeling that runs through all of our species and in a way transcends time itself. Our ancestors who built Stonehenge, who lived without the comforts of electric lighting in unnatural hours, would have been frequent observers of the night sky with as a much propensity as we now sit huddled before celebrity obsessed drivel on one of those TV-thingys. They would have come to recognise the planets and the stars on their nightly journeys and would have been far more used to their cycles. Their cultural impact, reflected in the names of the Greek and Roman deities in Europe, is still seen today in the naming of our days of the week.
So it was with interest that I discovered that this year, in late January and through to mid-February, we will be treated to a pre-dawn sight not seen on our shores for nearly a decade: a line of all five planets that are visible to the naked eye. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and, beyond the asteroid belt, Saturn. Having already clocked up four of the five by fortunate accident, I will try to get the elusive Mercury, low in the east, over the next two weeks.
Experiencing such a sight, and having the knowledge to appreciate it, is something that I find extends into all corners of my work. Countrymen are first and foremost skilled observers to nature’s ongoing drama. We perceive things not just as they are, but as to why they are, and how they will be in different seasons. We see landscapes in all weathers, and understand what happens when that weather is acting out of character.
It was only last week, for example, that I took action to ensure that the local bird life had access to drinking water. The ponds had frozen for the first time this winter, and the poor critters couldn’t break the ice. Being the dutiful landscaper that I am, I made sure to break the ice in several pots and buckets and took great delight in crushing frozen puddles into oblivion beneath the heel of my steel-plated boots!
And yet such activity should not be out of character for January. We should be battling against frozen landscapes and working in the teeth of artic winds! (It does justify that pint in front of the fire in the pub!) But we aren’t. The cold snap came and went away. For me, this balmy weather we’ve had is an opportunity for us in the landscaping trade to press on with our outdoor duties at a time of year that is usually inhospitable. January is usually a period where new clients are still in hibernation (like most business sectors, January is a quiet month as people recover from the Christmas buying spree!). Traditionally, we have used this as a time of year to prepare for the larger outdoor jobs. But this year, with the mild weather, and no snow, we are able to crack on. Already, we have started on landscaping a new garden and for another client we are busy laying a new patio and gravelling their drive.
At this rate, it’ll be none stop to September!