Tag Archives: tracks

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.


Staying on the beaten track

There’s a romantic appeal to getting off the beaten track. It can suggest getting ‘back to nature’ – into some purer, more pristine space, less defiled by humans. And of course for a Pagan, that’s got to be attractive. We’re nature people, we want to be close to nature, so why am I suggesting we don’t get off the beaten track?

I mean this very literally, by the way.

First up there’s a practical reason to stay on the path – otherwise you can very easily get lost and in some places, getting lost can kill you. At the very least, stay on the tracks and build stamina and experience before you even think about doing something that takes you further into the wilds.

Consider though, that the more people get out there, off the beaten track in search of pristine nature, the less ‘pristine nature’ there is going to be. If you see human presence as at odds with wildness, then adding your presence is questionable as an action. And no amount of saying ‘I am a special priest of the land and my being there is different’ makes rocking up in your vehicle to do your bit of erosion any less of an impact.

Humans are pushing the rest of nature to the margins. The more we insist on traipsing off into what marginal wilderness remains, the more pressure we put on it. The more resources we use to ‘get away from it all’ – by flying to exotic places, taking 4x4s so we can get off road and so on, the more resources we use and the more harm we do.

When we’re on the beaten path, we are predictable to other creatures. They know where the paths are, it is easier for them to avoid us, and they tend to feel less threatened when we are where they expect us to be (based on my own experiences with deer). If we push into their spaces, they are going to feel threatened. We may frighten them or drive them off. They do not exist for our amusement and we should think carefully about how we treat their space.

When we’re on the beaten path, we can see where we are putting our feet. Some birds make their nests on the ground. Some rare flowers are very small. When we spend time stomping around off the path, we are more likely to harm or kill something.

Paths are ok, and they aren’t unnatural. Deer and badgers make paths. Sheep make paths. Pathmaking is part of how creatures interact with landscapes. Humans are creatures too, and using our own paths to move through a space in a way appropriate to our own bodies, and inoffensive to other life forms, is not some kind of Pagan-fail.

You can, I promise, stand on a path and look at, be moved by and enjoy that which is not on the path. It may be less macho but it’s a good deal kinder and more respectful.