Tonight it snowed. Not much. Just a dusting, really. But enough to remind me why I love it.
Snow changes things. Suddenly, the world is brighter, sharper, more vital. Transformed. That which we have taken for granted is momentarily brought into question. We have to be careful where we tread. Surfaces that we trusted to be one way are now another. Puddles that we stepped around now have a crust of ice. We could step on that crust. But dare we? Would it hold our weight? I don’t know about you, but I just have to try. Tentatively step. An empty step. No weight. Then, slowly. Slowly. Transfer the weight. Until I hear that crack as the ice splinters and the puddle moist beneath rises through its glassy shell to lap at my foot. Insnow, every step can be an adventure.
Snow makes the world look cleaner. Brand new. Everything is now finished with sparkle and gleam. That dull shrub is suddenly reborn wearing new winter foliage – hard white crystals taking the place of the usual soft spring green. That field I walk across now bears the clear signature, normally invisible, of the early morning’s passage. I now see what my dog smells: tracks of rabbit, fox and other dogs draw a wild lattice that fills the space that I thought was empty. No wonder my dog goes into a frenzy of sniffing exploration each time we go there.
And there are snow sounds. The air is denser. Bird song seems louder. Foot fall crunch marks the rhythm of my walking. Noises seem to travel faster and more clearly in the clear, crisp air.
But, most of all, I love snow because it changes the rules. Snow brings disruption. Here in England, we are hopeless at dealing with snow. When it comes in any quantity, we are plunged into disarray. Roads are gridlocked, trains fail to run, schools close.
And it is wonderful. Children, freed of the obligation to attend school, dig out sledges, trays, tarpaulins, anything that will slide on snow, and head for the nearest hill. They spend the entire day playing outdoors, free of adult supervision. Getting cold, wet, tired and excited. Wild play. Sadly, this only happens when it snows. Snow grants permission for it to happen.
And then a man comes on the radio and moans about the schools being closed. It never happened in his day. And he moans that parents are leaving work early to spend time outside with their children. Like playing with your children is a bad thing! The economy will suffer. We should carry on regardless. Not allow the weather to get in the way of work. Productivity must not fall. How sad is that?
Sad that so many people live as if the weather does not exist. From centrally heated house to climate controlled car to air-conditioned office. And back again. A winter lived in shirt sleeves. Grumbling at the inconvenience of having to scrape ice from the windscreen. I find it so strange that people would want to try to deny the weather. Every day, it is my privilege to walk down a disused railway line, across fields and through woods. Often, my walk takes me along Wenlock Edge, a limestone escarpment nearly twenty miles long, where I regularly see deer. Where the excited chatter of buzzards fill the air. Where, yesterday, I saw a snipe. Where, every day, without fail, whatever the weather, the sheer beauty and magnificence of it all takes my breath away. Recently, I stood for a long time in a favourite spot under trees by a stream. I was entranced by the amazing complexity of it all. The constant sounding of the water – a melody improvised by flow, rock, wind and others unknown. An impossible melody – ever-changing, never repeating. The intricacy of bark. The subtle interplay of light shining between the lattice-work of branches. And it struck me that Mankind’s great works of Art and Civilisation seem clumsy and unsophisticated in comparison. We don’t even get close!
Then, it struck me that, if you live a life separated from Nature, you may not know this. You may begin to believe that Mankind’s achievements are great. An improvement upon the Natural World, in fact. I mean, who would want to be outside in the snow when we have warm houses and warm cars? What kind of lunatic would choose discomfort? Who in their right mind would go and live a poor life in the woods? Give up the nice car, the warm radiators, the endless hot water, the widescreen TV, the trips to the cinema, meals out with friends? Why?
And we think of ourselves, our modern Western culture, as the pinnacle of civilisation. But, when the oil runs dry. When the climate warms and the water stops flowing. When storms bring down the power lines. When the lights go out. How long before we find ourselves hopeless, starving and at each others throats. Unable to feed ourselves, find clean water, stay healthy?
Meanwhile, the man in the woods, the tribe in the forests, the bedouin in the deserts, the subsistence farmer in the mountains carries on as normal, unaware that anything has changed.
Which is why I love snow. It reminds us that the great bastions of our civilisation are mere inventions that, in time, will fall. Reminds us that Nature is real. That we are part. That we best not forget it. Because Nature will endure. With us or without us. But, if we let it, snow does this through joy. Through beauty. Through wonder.