Friday, 1 January 2010
Last night the world never got dark. Yes, I mean last night, December 31, Hogmany as it’s known over here, what should be almost the longest night, usually so dark that you could be looking into a deep well where you can’t see the hand in front of your face. Not last night. Around midnight Amber and I stood outside the house and looked around, surprised that we could see our snowy landscape extending all the way to the horizon in every direction. Nothing moved in the whiteness, unless it was that lone car winding its way on a country road to a Hogmany party. Or a dark haired bloke going “first footing” --- the custom of visiting your neighbour, whisky bottle in hand. It brings good luck if the first footer has dark hair, which is why with my brown hair, I don’t do it. Call it being DQ’d for life.
Under the hazy skies you can’t see the moon; you wouldn’t know where to look. The lighting appears to emanate from every direction and casts no shadow. Perhaps it emanates from the Earth itself from its unbroken snow cover. What’s going on? Isn’t it supposed to be dark? Well, yes, but once in a blue moon --- the name given to the second full moon in December --- it doesn’t get dark in winter. The Earth covered in a thick layer of snow acts like a mirror, a source of lighting that reflects the diffuse moonlight, scattering the rays isotropically. There’s the scientific explanation. Does it satisfy you, or would you rather stand with us in the winter midnight twilight, quietly, and look around you at every detail, the bushes sticking out of the snow, heavily laden tree branches, houses half buried, flustered sheep wandering around in the nearby field. They can't make anything of the twilight either. Look at them all so that you don’t miss a unique moment, one that won’t return.
Morning saw a new snowfall, that erased all signs of several days of snow shovelling and buried our access road. Our car’s lost somewhere in the whiteness. The icicles dangling in front of the study window grew another foot, some of them now almost four feet long. We’re in a snow house as in Lean's Doctor Zhivago, except that the house in the movie set had fake snow and was filmed in the boiling Spanish summer. The actors did a good job shivering and looking cold. At Cottarton we have the real thing. It started falling about December 20. This is the longest siege that the local people remember, but them they tend to say every year. The house stays warm thanks to a wood fire in the living room stove. My mother sits in her chair nearby where she can stay warm and look out over the snowy landscape. She's been with us over a week, keeping us entertained with her often acerbic humour. To her the landscape has an unearthly beauty. She’d like to go to church today but we probably won’t be going. It’s New Year, the world is hung-over, still asleep, including the snow ploughs and road gritters.
Outside, it’s begun to snow again.