Sunday, January 29, 2017

Snow Blindness

This piece was first published in the Caithness Courier with photos from the editor, Elizabeth-Anne McKay.

Snow is rare here, especially the soft, lightly falling damp flakes that pile gently atop one another like the snow of my childhood. And it is always the snow of my childhood that comes to my mind as they fall slowly out of the pastel sky. Of course driving was treacherous and power would be lost and cars would be stuck at intersections and without question or complaint anyone and everyone nearby would pile out and push. Those episodes of pushing cars out of snow drifts come to mind now not as effortful but with the vague wonder that we shared as we trudged back to our own individual cars alone—why can’t we behave like that as if every day were a snow day. But it isn’t. And that is what makes each of them a wonder as individual as the flakes.

I know as certainly as I know that you can’t make a good snowball with mittens that the flakes are not actually exactly completely unique, but each is unique enough for me to continue to watch snow with that metaphor firmly fixed in my mind. I accept science without compromising my faith. Snowflakes, like people, never experience exactly the same things in the same way. Even if two snowflakes look alike to the rational, discerning eye of a physicist, I believe that their inner selves bear the traces of their individual experiences just as we all do.

When I remember the last snowfall before I left the prairies for the place where the sea determines the weather, I no longer feel the anguish of my brother faithfully but erratically coming to my rescue. He still remembered that he had to look after me and had the strength and will to maneuver a snow shovel adroitly, but he had lost his spatial sense by then. When he ploughed into the centre of the road, shovel firmly in hand, one or the other of us would bring him back. Now that he has gone as completely as that snow, I remember all the snow times before that, such as the first time he showed me how to make a snow angel.

It takes more than a few inches of snow to make a proper snow angel, and it works best if the snow is pristine, not too cold or too wet. Good snowball-making snow will work but only if the snow is fresh. I cannot count the number of times I flopped, face up to the sky in the fresh-fallen snow to leave my impression there. It would often take several attempts to get the arms, working like windshield wipers, to make a good effect to create wings. Only now does it occur to me that all those times I was making impressions in the snow, the snow was making impressions on me as well.
I don’t remember getting cold in the snow, but I remember how wonderful it felt to get warm again afterwards: the almost painful tingling of snow-chilled skin in a hot bath slowly coming back into its own, and then hurrying into thick pajamas with feet attached and sliding into bed before I lost that superheated temperature.

Just as I can’t recall the way playing in the snow chilled me, I can no longer recall the pain of a snowball aimed at my face. In the ethics of snow fights, it was considered poor form to aim at someone’s face. Ill grace and poor aim were made allowances for, but I was a target for such abuse when I tried to play with the boys. As every tomboy then and now well knows, you have to earn the right to play with the boys. After I don’t know how many snowballs in my face, I earned their respect and the right to play with them. Having won, however, I discovered that the prize had not been worth the effort. I still persist in taking snowballs in the face—often more than is reasonable-- if I think the prize might be worth it. 


Saturday, January 14, 2017

January Sky in Three Pieces

We have snow again and
there may yet be more--that's what this piece of sky--a milky sky--says to me. This is the view from my front door as I set out to crunch through the snow up to the Loch--my favourite local walk. I have put on mini leg warmers, knit so long ago I had forgotten them, to keep the unusually deep (for us at any rate) snow off my cuffs.

Halfway to the loch, with the wind propelling these we-mean-business clouds in my direction, I decide to head back home. My last walk I barely missed a pummeling of hailstones--my least favourite of all the wintry precipitation.

It's 10:30 in the morning and we are a bit more than 30 days past the solstice--the longest night--so we have gained about 30 minutes of sunlight, but still this is the season of the lazy sun. High noon does not have the same meaning up here. The sun is about three fingers high in the sky--about as high as it will get.

 The home stretch for me. The roof top of Ivy Cottage visible beyond the bare branches. The foreshortening makes it look as if we sit directly on the moor--Greenland Moss, but there is a road between us, a kind of demarcation of the frontier of current versus past habitation. In the spring a flowering currant blossoms where people once lived and there are deep ruts where peats were dug. In early spring, the roadway that once crossed the moss is visible.  The snow covered hills on the horizon lie beyond that long stretch of boggy, peaty land but one of the many virtues of hill walking--even in my own back yard--is the marvellous sense of King of the Hill perspective it gives.