The sixth day of spring, and it has been snowing since dawn. We really don’t need this. Last week’s snow, which fell for two days solid and cut our roads, has hardened into a metre-thick layer of ice across the fields, and three metre drifts against the sides of barns and hedgerows. The snow ploughs and gritters have kept a narrow track down the road to the village more or less open but it takes bravery, foolishness or desperation for the ordinary motorist to use it. There are no passing places and meeting a vehicle coming the other way means that one, at least, will have to drive into the bank of icy snow that looms either side of the road, and only those with a four-wheel-drive, a team of hearty shovellers and a supply of old carpets to put under the wheels has any chance of getting out again this side of the great thaw. The great thaw is not predicted to be coming anytime soon. We are not brave, foolish or desperate and our car remains buried where it was parked, an undulating indistinct shape by the garden gate.
One of the problems with snow falling on snow (‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ echoes around my head) is the sense of claustrophobia it brings with it. We’re suffering from cabin fever as it is and sometimes a walk through the ice and snow to the bridge over the river less than 50 metres away is needed to break out of the feeling of suffocation. The falling snow closes it all down further and the loss of the view of the surrounding hills and woods creates minor panic. I loosen the scarf around my neck to help me breathe and I try not to look out of the window. I ignore the silent hypnotic swirls. At least I try to but I am transfixed. Deep breaths.
The radio’s jolly companionship begins to lose its lustre after a few days. The feeling that you are still connected to the rest of the world is replaced by a greater feeling of separateness from it, from those warm broadcasting studios in buildings in streets still teeming with people. It doesn’t take long before being an outsider takes its toll; being one of those being briefly talked about on the news. Poor things. How isolated. How do they manage? Next, the sport.
Except, listen to this, what is essentially local springs into life. The phone never stops ringing – a network of concern mapping out the widespread community. Shared concern, offers of help, a casual comradeship that always lies beneath the surface but rising above the layer of snow. No one in this valley goes forgotten or unregarded. Tractor drivers (the only free moving bodies) stop to ask how it is, balaclava-clad farmers knock on doors, a couple shepherd their arthritic sheep dog through the canine-high snowdrifts to check on neighbours. Before dark everyone will have been accounted for. There’s the phone again.
Look up the hill and you can just make out where the divisions between the different farmer’s fields are. Trees poking their heads in clumps. The dip towards the river. Under that frozen blanket lie dead sheep and lambs. Only last week, when it was still officially winter, the farmers had been saying how well the lambing had gone so far this year. No one yet knows how many have perished but the occasional tractor rumbles past the cottage pulling a forlorn trailer full of bodies.
The snow is falling heavier; the scene blurs and becomes indistinct.