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.