The sombre firs standing black against the leaden sky and the snow-sprinkled ground, the ivy clinging to the ancient bole, the big-leaved laurels and rhododendrons, and the hardy wayside hollies save the country from the monotony of leafless winter. Their greens may be dark or even dingy compared with those of spring, but they are really greens; when the rains sweep over, as they did yesterday, or the snow melts upon them they shine as if polished. The red berries are all the redder for the wet, and even the withered grass is invigorated by the showers which make us shiver.
Above the level of the tree-tops the kestrel hangs, its tail outspread, its wings vibrating as it hovers. Few beetles are abroad, and fewer shrews or voles now venture out in daylight. The kestrel must have many meatless days. The sparrowhawk, beating low over the hedgerows, fares better. The sparrows hunting for the last scattered grains, the chaffinch feeding on the road, the dunnock rootling amongst the dead leaves, or the larks flocking on the snow rise and hurry to shelter when its shadow appears, but every now and then one falls a victim, and is torn to bits in savage hunger.
The robin, the bird we most associate with Christmas, is wiser than the others; it knows that by fearless confidence it has won our affection and is safe in the garden. No sooner do we turn a spadeful of soil or rake up a litter than the robin is alongside waiting for its share; it finds some edible morsel, some tiny worm or larva, where we notice nothing, and as the titbit disappears turns its bright eye upon us and warbles a low but sweet note of thanks.