Despite the fact that it feels so cold up here from time to time that my feet go numb up to the knees, the temperature is moderated by the water. Frost is occasional and short-lived; snow is limited to a light dusting. Usually. We had snow on the ground when down south (that more prosperous city cousin, which is sometimes referred to up here generically as "Englandshire" ) was overwhelmed with snow followed by rain that has led to flooding and other serious weather concerns.
In my new life, which involves often lunching with friends (well, I did a fair bit of that in my old life, too) I spent a part of Monday looking at great lumps of snow piled likes cakes by the side of the Thurso river. The white cakes contrasted sharply with the dark brown shore, but to my eyes-- much accustomed to seeing large lumps of snow heaps in February--not too remarkable. My friend, with eyes more attuned to Caithness seasons, wondered how so much snow could get accummulated into that shape. It was a good question. No more than an inch or so had fallen on any given spot, so how had these self-rolling snowman bases come into being?
Tuesday I was lunching with another friend. She had managed to find a new restaurant overlooking the ocean from my somewhat vague directions--black and gold statue, the next road down from M's house, right over the ocean. The snow started before we put in our order--large flakes, hurrying one after the other as if racing to the ground. The warmer pavement swept them back into water and cast them, aside until it was outnumbered. "If it sitcks," I say and behind those words I have a database of facts and lore about driving in snow. By the time we were at coffee, the snow had depositedf itself about an inch thick on the cars, pavement, railings overlooking the sea, and was still coming fast. Pedestrians with their dogs carried umbrellas, which are never used for the rain up here--rain is either soft enough to be ignored or so pervasive that it cannot be thwarted. The snow curled softly around the tops of the umbrellas and unprotected shoulders. Even the dogs who liked the snow were hurrying to get back to the warmth of home. If I could have ignored the snowscape, I, too, would have lingered by the fire in the cafe, but this snow was not one to be ignored.
My boots squeeked as I stepped on to the snow. That sound evoked the residual child that lurks in all of us, and I thought of snow angels, snow men, and--just to confirm what that tell tale squeek of the snow had hinted at, a proper snowball. As I set about clearing the car, I took a handful of snow--casually, analytically--compressed it into the vaguely spherical shape and did my best imitation of throw all the way back to home plate from the outfield. The foreshortening of the horizon because of the snow made it possible for me to imagine that it flew all the way down the shore and rolled into the sea. It was a lovely moment.
The wiper blades whirring a losing battle with the snow brought me back to adulthood in Caithness with 10 miles of snowy roads with drivers not accustomed to driving on snow in front of me. The roads were problematic. The gritters (sand trucks) could not keep pace with the snow. In heavily trafficked areas, the snow melted, refroze and was covered again by loose snow. I edged into the local farm supply store and asked for the required armaments for snow days--snow shovel, salt and sand mix. I used to use cat litter, but thought that was too unconventional to mention. With these in my boot (trunk), I started for home.
The thick snow was like driving through sand. Slow and steady was all that was required. I appreciated that I have a stick shift car; it seems to give me more choice about speed and the connection between wheels and engine--perhaps I'm naive, but I kept going when other folks spun out or stalled. My heart sank when I had to stop on an incline at a red light. I began inching forward nicely in control when I became aware that the bus next to me was struggling. The front wheels were turning slowly, predictably forward; the rear wheels were hysterical. And then the rear of the bus slid into the building on its left with a thud and a shudder of plastic bits crashing and falling silently onto the snow-covered pavement. No passengers, no injuries, just a typical snow day traffic kerfluffle.
Up that little hill, around the bend, through the next light and soon through the town. I miss the ocean. Neither sight nor sound of it is possible through the snowfall. The ocean had swallowed my snowball and now that snow has had its revenge on the ocean.
I crawl along at no more than 20 mph because the back end of my car tends to get twitchy at anything more adventurous than that. The example of the bus is still clearly in my mind's eye so I slow down to ensure that all 4 wheels are in agreement about which way we are going.
About three miles before home, the snow stops, the sky clears, the pavement has only remnants of snow. I accelerate all the way to 30 and prepare myself for the last little shock of the trip home. As I had suspected, the farm road--the last 1/2 mile home-- is deep in soft white snow. There is one set of tracks --much too wide for my car to follow, so I plow through the snow, hearing the lowest part of the undercarriage conversing amiably enough with the snow. And then the beast that must have made the tracks comes back and starts heading toward me. I stop. Even on a clear day, the few wider spots in the farm road that allow for another vehicle to pass are not very wide. I sit and wait as the huge red thing lumbers forward. He pulls up alongside me with no hesitation and I discover that the rear wheels are large enough that he might almost have been able to go over my car. I am grateful that he didn't. We exchange a few weather words and then he is away and I trundle the last of the way home and slide smoothly into the driveway with the wheels making that lovely squeek.