I am walking the long twilight, staying out as the air thickens to night and the sky turns a deep indigo. At this time of year, the evening seems to last for an age, as though the day is reluctant to give way to night, clinging to the last of its short hours. On the western horizon, clouds billow like sheets in the wind, the signs of another rain front building overnight, an end to this brief glimmer of winter sunshine.
I have come to love this hour, the sense of the day receding and shadows merging into the fading light. It is a time for mystery and chance, a time in which the world around us is poised at the margins of change; when birds and animals shift uneasily into their night-time patterns, when the land is empty of people and the sky seems to hold its breath, briefly, as the first stars emerge. Tonight, a shallow cusp of moon, the colour of butter, snags in the branches of the trees. Lights are coming on in the villages below and the colour drains from the land as all merges to blue and grey.
Amongst the stand of spruce trees at the base of the hill, the darkness pools in the way that mist settles at the onset of evening. Woodpigeons clatter from the trees, dark against the darkening sky. Two woodcock are flushed from the thickets of bramble and skitter low to the ground, flexing from side to side, urgent, furtive.
As I cross the rising field back towards the village, the tall bare ash trees which line the old hedgerows are stark against the evening. They seem rare and precious now, threatened by the fungus which encroaches from the east. The ash tree is Yggdrasil, the world tree of Norse mythology, the place around which the gods gathered each day to hold their council. In the gathering dusk, the boulders around the base of this huge field ash look like the shapes of huddled people, or perhaps the gods casting their spells on the tree, blessing it with the chance of life.
Walking back to the lights of the village, the chill breeze touches my face like an annunciation. I remember that the word vesper refers both to evening and to a prayer, as though both are sacred in their own way, both mark a transition, a liminal place between this world and the next. Under the streetlights of the village, the transition to night seems complete, the light slipped completely from the sky.