Snow descended upon most of the UK this past week. The last icy blast of winter? This season may feel like it will never end, but I know from experience the days will soon grow longer and beneath that blanket of snow, the snowdrops and daffodils will push up through the ground announcing the coming of spring.
After two months of rain and mud, I welcome the freezing temperatures carried by The Beast from The East (the name given to the arctic temperatures which recently came from Siberia). Typically, English winters seem damp and temperate, but this unusually crisp, dry and cold atmosphere reminds me of winters in the States. So cold it felt like my eyeballs might freeze.
The Beast surprised us on its first day: We awoke to find no water due to a frozen pipe. Armed with a hairdryer and determination, Roger made quick work to restore our water. After that, we began leaving a tap on to prevent another pipe freeze. We were somewhat loath to do this as the water pump working in the night might require the generator to start or drain our storage batteries. However, we could not afford to have frozen pipes and their attendant problems. Wisely, Roger started manually running our 30-year old Lister generator each evening to keep it from struggling to start in such cold conditions. This simple act kept the batteries topped up through the night.
As we adjusted to hard ground, frozen sections of the river, and keeping everything ticking over, we found ourselves waiting for the arrival of Storm Emma. We felt certain it would be as if we were collateral damage during a match-up of Marvel Comic characters. And we were. Emma’s arrival brought fifty-mile an hour wind gusts hurtling down the valley from the north and a dumping of snow. Each walk with Millie felt like a polar expedition as we made our way through the growing drifts of snow.
Living in a rural area, Roger and I naturally worry about our supplies of food and fuel and the welfare of the hens. Before Emma and The Beast coupled, we had wisely secured plenty of food, wine, firewood, books and went so far as to bring inside all the watering cans, and filling water bottles should we have another pipe freeze too big for our little hairdryer. Battened down and ready: Bring it on Winter!
Looking out the window to the blizzard and all too aware that we could be snow-bound for a few days, my thoughts drift to childhood memories of sledding, building snowmen and snow caves and hoping school would be closed. The snow outside transforms the meaning of home inside, where we stoke the fire, listen more intensely to the radio, and remind one another of the various tasks to keep ourselves safe and Crockern operational. We may be considered remote, but in truth we are generally self-sufficient and could easily manage a week or two of isolation.
But, not if we had an emergency! With equal measurements of sensibility and adventure, Millie and I started up the Land Rover and drove down the track. There were several large drifts across the track, but the snow was light and fluffy and I was in a four-wheel drive. I drove through these with glee! But at the end of our track, there was a drift about 4 feet high, blocking access through the gate. I grabbed my shovel, and began to dig. As this was Millie’s first snow, she realised she too could help rid the drift with her digging. In no time, the two of us cleared a path.
We were lucky. Some of our neighbours were stuck as there were no passable roads to their houses. A friend’s generator wouldn’t start leaving him without electricity, which meant no heat or water. Many friends and neighbours had no water as pipes were frozen; while nearby, a neighbour had leaking in the house from a ruptured pipe.
After the storm abated, most of the landscape was dressed in soft, virgin snow. It’s magical appearance a reminder of the power of nature. Across the country, traffic came to a standstill. Trains were cancelled or delayed by several hours. Plans to see friends aborted. When my schedule is disrupted by the weather, I only pretend frustration. Mostly, I sigh with relief: the world has stopped. When I look at our calendar and all the things I have had to cancel, suddenly many of them don’t seem so important. Winter slows our pace, disrupts the business of schedules and appointments and reminds us to re-organize priorities.
It’s true, winter gets into our bones and at times can seem interminable, tedious and brutal. But as the snow transforms the previously muddy landscape, this cold reminds me of the visceral comfort of a warm fire, a glass of wine, rest and a good book. Hunkering down takes on greater joy! So too, I am reminded of that sense of excitement and boundless energy to get outside and enjoy the snow. Shovelling is not a chore, it’s playtime! Tossing snowballs into drifts for Millie to locate becomes the height of mischief for both of us.
Shortly on the heels of the snow fall, arrived the freezing rain. Our track was clear of snow drifts, but it was beginning to become ice. The wind was gathering strength and generating a deafening sound, which all but muffled the moan of tree branches under the new weight of 3 centimetres of ice.
Soon, all the snow will melt, and it of course will mean the return of mud. But this dreamy-blizzardy-back-drop, sandwiched between the rain and mud of winter, has helped restore a sense of what matters most.