A fleeting winter wonder

Life stock taking shelter from the wind and the snow near Loughrea, Co. Galway last week. Photo: Hany Marzouk.
Life stock taking shelter from the wind and the snow near Loughrea, Co. Galway last week. Photo: Hany Marzouk.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

One day last week, there was only one word on peoples lips in this part of the country. That word was "snow."

Up to four years ago, we had several white Christmases in a row and Santa brought the girls a sled but, wouldn't you know, we have only had a few light sprinklings of snow since.

The sled has been gathering dust and its sole outing was this past autumn when we tried to use it, with modest success, to slide down the mounds of barley piled in the shed.

So last Tuesday afternoon, when the air stilled and the sky darkened, then started to shed big soft white powdery flakes, there was a burst of excitement, especially on the part of the young but also the young-at-heart.

I know that severe weather in various forms can be devastating but this commentary is just about some positives, about simple beauty and innocence and nostalgia.

What's seldom is wonderful.

In this country, we spend a lot of time talking about the weather and, usually, it is to give out about it. But our temperate climate is actually comfortable and safe most of the time. We may not realise it but some people actually enjoy coming here for our bland weather.

But we rarely experience the extremes - very hot, cold, wet or dry.

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So when we get a blast of sun, snow or even frost, we rush out and soak it up, because we fear it will be snatched away before we get to enjoy it.

Even as the first snow flurry was swirling to the ground and a thin white sheet started to settle over everything, the girls abandoned their homework. Ruth gets chilblains but that did not stop her racing out, with no hat or gloves on and her jacket flapping open.

Once I had sorted her out, she joined Sarah in the garden which had been miraculously transformed from its usual seasonal dullness into a bright winter paradise. They immediately got stuck in to having fun; running around and sweeping handfuls of snow up in the air or scrunching them up into snowballs to throw at Robin, who had joined them.

"Come on out, Mammy," Sarah banged at the window. At first I resisted, telling myself that I needed to start getting the supper. But for some providential reason I just dropped everything and ran to join them.

It was bitterly cold and soon our hands were numb but the compulsion to be out in it was greater. We chased and laughed and generally messed around for over an hour until the cold and darkness drove us back inside. How good the warm house felt. My senses were buzzing. I felt really alive.

Except for the occasional holiday or unexpected event, most of us follow a routine; and that is true whether you are a farmer, a home-maker or a jet-set banker. Days turn to weeks, weeks to years and years to decades. Most changes that we make are gradual and, thus, unremarkable. All too rarely we stop and really look at our lives to mark a day or even a moment.

More snow fell overnight and, now that the first frenzy was over, I was able to look at the landscape more objectively. I felt an overwhelming sense of serene beauty, as if it were a marble masterpiece.

The pink early morning sky looked even pinker and the upper surfaces of everything bore a layer of bright snow, just enough to highlight the lines, not too much to dull them, like a fluorescent white pen had been used on a grey/blue background.

Heading out to school all that was worrying the girls was would it be there when they got home, because they couldn't wait to get back out into it.

Driving slowly along the road, their response to the scene was also now more measured, at least slightly; the car that hadn't moved was still wearing its white fur cloak, the round speed limit sign dusted with icing sugar was a lollipop begging to be licked.

It was also, as one of the dads at the school gate described it, perfect "fighting" snow. The kids were throwing snowballs at each other, while the adults were inclined to run for cover. But, whenever someone got caught with a stray missile, they couldn't stop themselves laughing.

Back home, I headed out in the fields with my camera. From a distance, it looked as though they were covered with a perfect sheet of snow. On closer examination, I found loads of tracks, some larger ones and smaller criss-crossing ones which, from their number, I guess were made by rabbits.

Our bull calves have access to a field and it was delightful to watch them experiencing snow for the first time. The first one to look out of the shed was afraid to put his foot on it.

A push from behind put paid to his hesitance and he found himself landed in the middle of it. Realising that he hadn't been hurt in any way, he suddenly leapt in the air. He then decided to find out what it is like to the touch so he gingerly put his nose to the ground. He was shocked, presumably at the cold.

Then he realised that some snow is stuck to his snout so he licked it clear, right up into his nostrils. Finding this not unpleasant, he repeated the exercise.

A mild wind picked up around lunchtime and quickly started to erase the snow. As with many things in life, its going was less glamorous than its coming. What descended so majestically now melted away.

It was all over in less than 24 hours.

Heading off for the school pick-up, I expected Ruth to be disappointed that the snow was gone. Instead, I was met by a beaming face. The teachers had let them play e.

They got to make so many snowmen that they called it Snowman city and, in keeping with the recent hit movie Frozen, there were lots of Olafs. No snowball throwing, though. Health and Safety, apparently.

It was a perfect visit from the perfect house guest; one who brings a the perfect present - which I once heard described as not something you need but something you really want, though you may not even realise it - and leaves before the welcome is worn out.

afitzgerald@ independent.ie

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