The temperature here fell to around minus seven last night and when I went into the garden early this morning it was still well beneath freezing. The air was fresh and cold and the lawn glistened white in the early morning sunshine. I enjoy these bright crisp mornings, so long as I don’t have to travel far on icy roads, and looking around the winter landscape of our garden the words of Christina Rosetti came to mind:
“Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.”
This was exactly as the still morning was here, with the grass crunching beneath my tread and our pond solidified.
The sheep in the field at the end of our garden, fleece enwrapped, cut a dour if bucolic image as they tore at the frozen herbage awaiting the arrival of the farmer with a fresh supply of hay and other foodstuffs to ward off the cold. Garden birds were clearly grateful for the nuts and other morsels that we put out for them as they flitted from rime coated trees to bird table.
On Boxing Day evening (26th December or St Stephen’s Day), we had a brief flurry of snow, temporarily coating the countryside in a thin sheet of white powder and adding to the traditional yuletide atmosphere. However, this remained only a short time here, unlike further north in England where significant disruption was experienced by travellers trying to negotiated icy snow blocked roads.
When I was a child I used to hope each year for a major fall of snow. Sufficient at least to build a snowman and to justify a dusting off of the sledge for a few thrills on the local hills near my home. Living at the time in Gloucester, the slopes of Robinswood Hill usually beckoned, where along with several dozen others I could participate for a few days in our own local winter Olympiad. Snowball fights and igloo building were the order of the day, but racing our sledges was the prime occupation. After a few hours of gliding the slippery course of the toboggan run and rolling around after countless crashes in the snow, I would return home wet and cold, but glowing with the pleasures of the sport. I recall to this day those hot aches experienced when first submerging in a steaming bath after leaving the frozen outdoor world behind.
Today as an adult I am far more sanguine about this icy weather. Personally I would be pleased to see the winter pass without a significant fall of snow. Having left a care fee period of childhood behind, I now see the winter weather as a potential hazard to travel and a disruption to my usual pattern of life. However, I am not so curmudgeonly that I would wish in any way to deprive successive generations of children of the experiences of exploring and learning in the snow. It is not too long since, that I enjoyed pulling my own children aboard a sledge through snowy lanes, and I hope to have similar opportunities in the coming years with my grandchildren.
Neither should we see the potential for such apparent winter frivolity as the sole preserve of children. Whenever we have a heavy fall of snow I still cannot resist the opportunity to don my boots and gloves and take my spade to build a snowman in our garden. This temporary addition to the Rose household invariably raises a smile from visitors and neighbours (who I suspect may see my behaviour as a worrying step towards ever greater eccentricity!). But for a brief while I am transported back to childhood and take my pleasure from my childish ways.
Convinced that the joy to be gained from an experience such as this should not be missed, a few years ago I revelled in the opportunity to teach a group of South Indian students at the university, who had never experienced snow before, how to build a snowman of their own. Within minutes they had reverted to a childlike state and were laughing and carousing in the snow, their earlier complaints about the cold almost forgotten. I took great pleasure the following day in inspecting more than a dozen such specimens on my walk from the university car park, wonderful examples of winter art that had appeared overnight.
So, to those of you who may be reading this blog in the warmth of your home, but with a snowy landscape visible from your window, I hope that you will shrug off the inconvenience, wrap up warm and maybe take the chance to make the most of the conditions. For others who live in areas where snow is an unknown commodity, I hope someday that you too will enjoy the many creative opportunities that these freezing conditions can bring.
I hope that you all had a very happy Christmas.