Tag Archives: snow

Reflections on snow

This is the first winter when I’ve been able to enjoy snow. In the past, fear of falling has been a real problem – I fall easily at the best of times. Not having the right gear, and not having a warm home to come back to with places to dry wet things have also been issues – in various combinations at different times in my past. Being able to enjoy the snow is a privilege I’ve not had before, and I’ve felt it keenly.

Kit is essential. Sturdy, waterproof boots coupled with fell runner’s crampons keep me on my feet, and I’ve finally started to trust them. It takes a while to overcome fear. Thermal socks, waterproof trousers, a good, warm and waterproof coat. Thick gloves, warm hats, scarves and plenty of good layers for underneath. Now that we have a dehumidifier, coming in wet isn’t a problem and I can count on outer clothes drying overnight. These things make worlds of difference.

So, properly kitted up, I was out during the snow and able to engage more with the experience rather than just being assailed by anxiety and misery and risk.

Snow creates fantastic opportunities for tracking. We saw where the foxes had been. A heron had climbed out of the river, under the footbridge and onto the side of the canal. A cat had wandered down the side of the flat, thought better of it and turned back. Swans had walked down the canal, and we saw where one of the pair had broken through the ice and started opening a channel while the other had walked alongside it on the thicker ice. I’m no expert on tracking, but knowing what’s around normally makes it easier to figure out whose feet are whose.

We were out in the snow at night, with slush on the roads freezing into ice, and more snow falling. There were young humans out in the streets, playing and laughing, under-dressed and apparently unfussed. There were almost no cars – I was seeing them in motion at a rate of about six per hour, at times and places when normally the flow would be constant. The quiet was beautiful. Most people were tucked up inside, no doubt with televisions on and may have missed the eerie beauty of roads innocent of cars. We walked down the middles, danced about on a normally busy junction, because nothing was moving quickly and we could hear it coming from a considerable distance.

As the snow melted, the areas of compression stayed frozen for that bit longer. I was briefly treated to a map of animal paths along the banks beside the cycle path.

I find falling snow hypnotic, and the blanket whiteness hard on my eyes. There is something magical and uncanny about expanses of untouched snow, especially when it lies thick enough to change familiar contours into smoother, unfamiliar shapes. For a brief time, we inhabit other countries, where the colours, shapes and textures are not the same as where we came from. Snowflakes swirling under a street light like tiny fish in an ocean. Journeys written into the land in ways we normally can’t see. The familiar made treacherous and unpredictable.

Finally, for me, that familiar feeling from childhood of rejoicing as the colour comes back in. The great relief of green. The snow may be less of a problem for me, but I am still glad when it goes.

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The joys of good inventions

I can sound like a luddite sometimes, and it would be fair to say that I have mixed feelings about modern technology. I am very fond of the internet, and of the things I own, the netbook I’m typing this on is of particular value to me. Not that I own much hi-tech stuff. There are some kinds of technology that seem to be made purely so that someone can sell you a new thing. Many of them do nothing for me. I get far more excited about inventions that have genuine impact, aren’t just a faster version of an old thing with more bells and whistles than I have any use for at all. Technology that uses less energy than old ways of doing is a win, technology that enables new creativity. If they make 3d printers that run on old food packaging, then, and only then will I be wildly excited about them.

It’s snowing here today. As a child, snow was a source of fear. I was born with my feet pressed back against my shins, as a result my ankles are dodgy and I spent my childhood falling over a lot. Snow, ice, even frost, increased the risk of falling, and I never really enjoyed snow as a consequence. This stayed with me right up until 4 years ago, when my brother discovered and introduced me to a thing. Microspikes. Also known as fell runners crampons. A rubber upper that slips over the boot or shoe, and on the underside, chains and little metal teeth. They’re designed for those gloriously mad people who want to run over mountainous terrain in adverse conditions. Lightweight, fairly low tech, but absolutely life changing. I can walk in the snow without any need to worry, and that makes it possible to enjoy the snow rather than being mired in fear.

Every year, elderly people, especially women with brittle bones fall on slippery surfaces. Broken hips are an all too frequent outcome, leading to long hospital stays, wrecked confidence, and terrible physical pain. Many never really get over it. Add to the list of campaigns I want to start, one to get microspikes and similar things given to all pensioners as a matter of course. They’d pay for themselves in a single winter, not just in unoccupied hospital beds, but also in the well being, happiness and self esteem of the people affected.

If you’ve got a person with confidence or mobility issues who is likely to suffer in the ice and snow, consider making the investment and getting a set. Being kept in for long periods by bad weather is so isolating and demoralising, and the freedom this little bit of inspired invention gives a person, is incredible. They aren’t totally fall proof, but I’ve walked over steep and ice coated hills in them and never so much as lost my footing.