Anne here, just back from a writers’ retreat, nursing a cold picked up on the plane, and thinking about my fellow wenches and friends who are battling with snow and ice and bitter cold. It made me reflect on some of my own few experiences of snow, and how they opened up another world for me.
Coming from a mediterranean type of climate, I don’t have a lot of experience with serious cold — it almost never snows in my part of the world — but when I was a little girl we lived inland, and on some winter nights the temperature dropped right down below freezing point. Killer frosts.
I grew up knowing Jack Frost was real, because after those bitter nights I’d see the magical ice paintings he’d leave etched on the windows. I’d stare into the swirls and ripples of ice and “see” all kinds of strange and wondrous images. To me, they were a little like Arthur Rackham paintings —the more you looked, the more you’d see.
I’d also play with the frost. On chilly nights, I made little “frozen gardens” by putting a saucer of water on the back step, filling it with flowers and little snippets of greenery and leave it to freeze overnight. Then in the morning, I’d bring it inside and put the saucer with its little frozen arrangement on the breakfast table.
Then when I was eight, we went to live in Scotland for a year. We arrived in the middle of winter, and it was a bitterly cold winter at that — and it wasn’t just our thin Australian blood feeling it — everyone said it was an especially cold winter. For me, all that white everywhere was pretty exciting, snow, icicles hanging from branches and rooftops — it was all a wonderland, even though the snow was deep and frozen solid and the making of a snowman was pretty much impossible — though we tried. Even the burn (stream) at the bottom of the hill was frozen. I don’t know how the fish survived — for all I know they didn’t.
Our house had a large garden, and it was all covered in snow — deep snow, for weeks, possibly several months — I don’t remember exactly. A few sad twigs stuck out of the frozen snow, dead-looking and brittle, so I knew the poor garden was dead.
Eventually the weather began to warm and the ice and snow started to thaw. And then, to my utter amazement, those dead twigs started to sprout with tiny green leaves and furry buds of pussy willows. From the impossibly hard frozen earth nosed soft little shoots of green, and flowers, crocuses, all kinds of bulbs popped up. How did such softness survive? I had no idea, but I’d read The Secret Garden, and watching this dead iced-up garden come slowly back to life was my very own “Secret Garden” moment.
A few years later I read Henry Treece historical novels and when he wrote about dark age tribes worshipping the return of the sun, I completely understood why.
Another magical revelation brought by snow came to me some years later. I was nineteen, I think, and making use of the long university summer holidays by exploring Europe even though it was winter. Really the cold was part of the attraction.
I was taking a bus from London to Edinburgh, and we were not long out of London when it started to snow. And right before my eyes the ancient medieval strip field farming landscape came to life, etched in the snow. Before the snow, the fields had just looked like ordinary green fields; now each individual strip was revealed.
I was thrilled to see such a revelation happening before my eyes and pointed it out to the person sitting beside me, who nodded and said “Ah” and “Mmm” in a “humor the tourist” kind of way. The pattern only lasted a short while — once the field was fully blanketed in snow, the ancient ridges and hollows disappeared — but I’ve never forgotten it, nor the magic I felt in seeing those remnants of ancient history come briefly to life again. (Photo by Joan Bellinger on this website)
Now I know snow and ice can be terribly damaging and dangerous, and several of my friends have suffered badly in some of the recent ice storms, and I'm not meaning to minimize that at all. I'm just sharing my few small experiences — and inviting you to share some of your own.