Lets compare our traditional three score years and ten to the calendar year. March, by default, puts us squarely into the middle of the teenage years and firmly into adolescence. It’s a fair analogy, the year is blooming into beauty, cherry and apple blossom festoons the otherwise bare branches, Magnolia buds swell, open and display their hidden treasures in the village gardens, woodland flowers are bursting through the autumn mulch and turning their rosy cheeks towards the light, the hawthorns have a fuzz of green upon them like an adolescent chin sprouting downy growth. Its imminent, the energy is latent, you can feel it but whatever it is, its not here yet, the year in its teenage angst is full of incipient power.
I travel through this on a day to day basis, the signs of coming spring are there but the temperature does not follow suit, the cold wind harries me through t-shirt and fleece and chills my bones, the sun has no real warmth, when it decides to shine, unless you can find a sheltered corner away from the wind.
The birds are singing in the morning and evening but my circadian rhythms are still set on winter time, its difficult to pull myself out of bed to face another chilly day under concrete skies. Like the rooks in the trees I know its coming but its not here yet.
Then one day, all of a sudden, the fields are green, the rape is not sprouting thorough the soil but its 18 inches tall and is turning the field the colour of the rising sun. The rooks are sitting on eggs in the smooth mud and feather lined interior of their twiggly jumbles, the year is afoot and somehow it caught you out, no one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
The DofE season is just a bit like this as well, we wander through January and February doing weekend work in the schools, training groups and setting routes for the coming season, the diary for the year ahead is full, the staff are in place, campsites are booked, tents and stoves are cleaned and serviced awaiting the whistle.
Then all of a sudden its upon you, the first expedition comes and you realize you were not quite ready, rucksacks are missing something, there is only one gaiter in the van, you forgot to pack your spork, or your lighter or your gloves, your compass has a bubble in it there is always something. The endless round of preparing course information packs, drying tents, turning them around in the time frames which seem to become ever shorter between each expedition, typing reports and watching the weather forecasts always takes you by surprise, a bit like a punch in the solar plexus, you can see it coming but it still knocks the breath out of you.
Our first outing was with 14 groups on a Bronze practice in the Cotswolds, the weather was kind to us, the sun actually came through on occasion, it was warmish and the drizzle from the generally leaden skies never really warranted wet weather kit being hunted out of rucksacks, the cloudy skies meant however that night time temperatures stayed high, everyone slept well.
Navigational skills are sharpened, there is nothing like teaching a subject to someone else to make you good at it yourself, a sense of wonder returns as you point out the springtime environment to your charges. 80 odd kids leave, many having undertaken their first ever-camping trip, tired, sore footed but hopefully full of achievement, inspired and confident, to a degree, for their forthcoming asessed.
From there it was onto Dartmoor almost immediately and into the grim, Dartmoor when it is foul is foul, there is nothing afterall between the moor and the Atlantic.
The four gold groups exited the warmth of their minibus into rain which just got heavier and colder as the northerly wind pushed it through crack or crevice in wet weather kit. The cloud is down on the tops, the rain is turning to sleet, the first night wild camp was abandoned for the less soggy security of a basic campsite, the grim however did not persist and the days steadily improved to give us warm sunshine on the gently steaming and spongy moor.
The groups finished at Fernworthy, the house martins were crissing and crossing the surface of the water as they scooped up the emerging insects, its only mid March but the martins are back providing an ariel disply to the courting great crested grebes below their flight paths on the reservoir.
Now we are into it, twelve groups out in the Mendips suffer brutal nighttime temperatures but lovely warm daytime sunshine; this is followed by six expeditions over the next week or so.
Mendips DofE credit Andy Chamberlain
Some in the Brecons, some in the New Forest the whirlwind is firmly upon us as we hit the first peak of the year.
I am not grumbling, I love it, the constant challenge, the stream of new participants in the differing levels all requiring a different approach. Revisiting the wilder places as they awake to a new year, watching the world come of age whilst its still fresh and full of rapid change.
Maybe I will find time to get a day out climbing in the sun, I can live in hope.