Monday, 5 December 2011

The Advent of snow

'And some to view the winter weathers,
Climb up the window seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
In fancy's infant ecstasy,
Laughing with superstitious love,
O'er visions wild that youth supplyes,
Of people pulling geese above,
And keeping Christmas in the skies.'
John Clare, from The Shepherd's Calendar

The snow arrived this weekend. Someone up there must have read my blog about the unseasonal greenery and decided to put things right. Don't know where they got the geese from this early in December.

Anyway, it gave me an excuse to put in my favourite snow description. I discovered it when a friend wrote it on a Christmas card he sent a few years ago. Now whenever it snows I imagine those Georgian farmers' wives hunched over a roaring fire, frantically plucking their fat farmhouse geese somewhere in the clouds. Which is strange really, as I always feel that snow brings not that sense of bucolic contentment, but a sense of unpredicatable wildness.

In fact after nearly three months of ice and feet-deep snow last winter I vowed I never wanted to see the stuff again. But a walk in the ankle-deep, powder-light snow in the woods above Dunblane this morning has cured me. After more early morning flurries the sky cleared, the air was gin-clear, and the sun etched the trees as black silhouettes against the blue-washed sky. In the town the rooks seemed especially vocal, perched in the crowns of the snow-spattered trees yelling complaints at the passers-by. Perhaps they remembered the privations of last year's freeze better than I.

But my friend and I headed out up the road to the hills. In 1715 these moors were carpetted with the dead of the Battle of Sheriffmuir, now much of the hillside is shrouded with conifers. Here the snow was deeper, the sunlight sharper, and the views of the mountains to the north and south spectacular. I am hooked again.

The tracks through the trees were wide and sun-filled. We'd come to walk Jake, my friend's handsome, rangy, black-and-white collie. As he wove in and out of the dark trees he looked almost wolf-like, and I imagined how it would feel if there were really wolves lurking in the forest. So much of our landscape has been tamed since the last wolf was killed in Scotland in 1680, and their reintroduction would be hugely controversial. But I can't help thinking that bringing back our top predator, restoring our sense that something in the wild is bigger and stronger than us (even if the chance of an actual wolf attack is minuscule), would help us all get back in contact with the natural world and our place in it. Let's hope we'll find out one day soon.

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