Discovering a love for snow

Looking at all the beautiful photos of snow on other people’s blogs of late, I have been feeling a little ashamed of my own comparitively negative response.

You see I have not until today, been especially enjoying the snow. I have not been able to muster up the enthusiasm to create an amazing snowman or an igloo, (though I have very much admired other people’s creations) and I have been worried and nervous because of the snow, rather than jubilant and excited. I have been reading the accounts over on Devon Fine Fibres and sheepgal of life on a sheep farm in the snow, and I am struck by the harsh challenges and the extra work that snow creates and by the real danger that it poses to people and animals. For myself, I am nervous to walk on icy ground. I can’t quite trust my sore, oddly-shaped toes to get a good footing and I empathise with all the people – especially the elderly folks – who I see picking their way anxiously along the edge of roads doing anything they can to avoid the deadly sheen on the ungritted pavements beside them.

But today my reticent attitudes were changed and – with the help of others – I discovered some love for snow.

I had a radio feature to make today; episode II in the I SPY/I HEAR feature that I have been working on for The Hub radio show, along with the Knit Weekly feature. The making of I SPY/I HEAR today entailed a long and perilous drive, taken at a meditative pace along the A329 out towards Pangbourne, near which I hoped to find a salmon ladder. I am nearly always tailgated on that road and harangued from behind as I desperately search for an exit; however today was different because today everyone was driving at snow-speed. Careening gently over large plates of sodden, filthy ice, motorists were taking things at a leisurely 15mph and giving each other plenty of space and lots of encouraging nods. I approve thoroughly of this approach to driving and wish that lethal conditions on the roads were not the only thing that would bring it into countrywide effect.

Additionally, listening to Radio 4’s Excess Baggage, on said journey I found myself utterly inspired by the words of Margaret Elphinstone and Susan Richardson as they discussed their own relationship with snow as writers. Elphinstone talked about the wonder of different kinds of snow and the disruption in routine that snow necessitates, while Richardson discussed the invigorating powers of the Winter and the way that it drives you to get outdoors and into the Landscape. I found Richardson especially good at conveying the energising qualities of coldness, and the joy of cold on your cheeks.

It seems that Elphinstone and Richardson share a fascination with the historic figure of Gudrid of Iceland, who was a Norsewoman discoverer born in around 980. Margaret Elphinstone based The Sea Road around her, while Susan Richardson’s Creatures of an Intertidal Zone seems to also have been largely inspired by travels made in Gudrid’s footsteps. Richardson and Elphinstone have both travelled around Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland in search of Gudrid the Viking, and so snow and coldness have become important elements for inspiring creative language, and for physically contextualising Gudrid’s ventures in a specific kind of place and geography. Listening to them talk about their respective quests, their writerly relationships with snow, and the life and times of Gudrid, I found myself thinking also of Vespertine by the inimitable Bjork, (a more contemporary Icelandic venturer) with its delicate, snowed-in atmosphere and wintry samples such as the feet that crunch over snow at the start of Frosti.

I found myself appreciating their wise reflections and observations on what snow is and what it does; especially Richardson’s comparison of fresh snow with a blank page to fill and Elphinstone’s beautiful descriptions of walking in the hills. I loved her idea of places that can’t be reached because of snow, her musings on being at the edge of what is safe or possible when walking in the mountains in snow, and her exuberant joy at the thought of being snowed in*. I also found my knitterly heart leaping for joy as both writers turned to a discussion concerning the rich colours of the Winter Landscape. And finally, I found myself agreeing to Elphinstone’s notion of how snow holds us in the moment and forces us to pay attention and slow down. Richardson also talked about how it’s important to learn how to wait, and I realised then that perhaps my lack of enjoyment with the snow has been to do with my own general atmosphere of impatience.

So I walked very slowly in the snow, stopping every few moments to record certain sounds and to appreciate the extreme detail in the landscape;

The sound of wind rustling in the dry rags of last year’s leaves.
The sound of geese bickering, landing in the water, chatting.
The stony silence of ice and the dimmed vigour of a River when it is half frozen over.
The crunch of my boots as they descend into loose, light, icy powder.
The lonely maul of the wind as it roams over the even, snow-blanketed fields.

I found myself appreciating long moments of listening as I stood in large, white fields noting how snow is very much like the visual equivalent of silence. I enjoyed finding the stillest way of being, and listening very carefully to the world as if hearing through a microscope. It took me three hours to cover what is not normally such a long walk, because of this time… this appreciating time, this waiting time, this listening time, this snow-time.

When I came home, I left my car – as I have done these past two nights – in the carpark of the huge park opposite. At some point in the evening, I went outdoors to check on the wellbeing of the Felixmobile, and I met a neighour with a pair of shovels that he’d managed to borrow from around here. I asked him if he wanted any help and together we dug out space for cars at the back of this house and cleared a safe pathway from the road. A third neighbour joined us when he also needed to park his car in the snow which is around 40cm deep in places! We spent a happy time together chuckling in disbelief at the sheer quantity of snow, and parted with instructions about where to knock if any future help is required.

I haven’t met any of my neighbours properly while I have been living here; I once signed for someone’s roses and left them in a bucket of water outside her room, but generally we follow the sad, un-neighbourly habits of bedsit world and all keep to ourselves save for polite hellos in the hallway. There is nothing like a shared problem to bring people together and digging snow out on the drive and learning the names of some of the other people who live here, I felt a warm and profound sense of belonging that warmed me right through. That reminds me of something else that I heard on the radio show this morning;

If you wait long enough the seasons change and I find now I really want to stay where I am and watch that happen and see the same scenes through the four seasons, and that’s one of the very nice things about belonging somewhere. – Margaret Elphinstone

It is very nice to belong somewhere, and always lovely to remember how simple that belonging really is.

I always find that when I feel especially happy in any place, my thoughts turn to sounds and knitting. So tonight I am thinking about the Solan Goose colourway by Alice Starmore, Bjork’s Vespertine, this amazing Winter recording that I have enjoyed so much recently, and the possibilities of creating some Viking-inspired garments of joy. I hope you are finding some inspiration in the snow too.

The BBC Radio programme that I mentioned is this one, and there is a podcast with Elphinstone and Richardson talking in it here.

*this also reminded me of Bjork’s Vespertine, because Bjork said on MTV when that album was released, that Vespertine is like… those days when it’s snowing outside, and you’re inside with a cup of cocoa and everything’s very magical. You’re euphoric, but you don’t speak for days ’cause you don’t want to.

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