Saturday, 11 February 2012
Warm Thoughts in Winter
Welly and I crunched our way across the garden. The sound of furry slippers and furry paws treading on the carpet of glittering snow startled a blackbird from the bushes. We stopped, and the world descended into that almost tangible silence that can only exist in the presence of snow. While I scraped the thick, squeaky frosting off the dial of the weather station, and tapped the glass to make sure the needle hadn't frozen in place, Welly made yellow snow.
Yellow looks so shockingly bright and artificial in this land of black and white. By being deprived of the variety of greens and browns and greys that make up a normal winter landscape, you see things as if through new eyes. Our garden birds aren't really drab little brown-feathered visitors at all. The breast of a male chaffinch is a rich, startling pink, making the red of a robin look too bright to be anything but man-made. Blue tits and great tit start to look more like exotic canaries in comedy combinations of blues and yellows, and goldfinches fight over the perch on the feeder in a blur of fiery reds and golds.
I looked at the reading of -9 and we crunched hastily back to the warmth of the house.
Evan had to work this morning, so he was up and out to defrost the car. He brought the water bottle in from the car and the remaining couple of inches had frozen. Strangely, this instantly brought back memories of the tropics. Of walking in flip flops along the sun baked, pot-holed streets of Suva on my way to work at the Fijian Ministry of Health. Of the torrential tropical downpours that would flood the streets in seconds, but once the rain had stopped pelting down the steam would start rising from the tarmac and within minutes rain would be a distant memory. Umbrellas were permanently open in Fiji; essential during the downpours and doubling up as innovative sun shades for the rest of the day. I'd carry with me a 2 litre bottle of boiled then frozen water, so that I'd have cool drinking water throughout the day. On these walks to work the ice would be clunking and heavy against my leg, cold drips of condensation mingling with beads of sweat.
Snow there was just unimaginable for the majority of the population; a distant concept too bizarre to be comprehended. The papers once reported that "Extreme Cold Hits Fiji" - it had gotten down to 12 degrees that night, and an uncharacteristically chilly 17 during the day. We'd sit there, melting in the heat of the day, unwilling to move because you'd just need to go and shower again, and fantasise about being cold, about snow, about red wine warming in front of an open fire, about woolly jumpers and mittens. At Christmas we crammed into the local Methodist Church that would have felt full with a congregation of half the size of the one that turned up. It was an old colonial building, panelled in wood throughout, with a gallery above the main room. We sat up there in the rafters, in 45 degree heat and 98% humidity, cross legged on the floor, shoulder to shoulder with Fijians twice our size, watching the single ceiling fan turn listlessly above us as the choir sang a beautiful rendition of In the Bleak Midwinter - without even the merest hint of irony.
Back here, at minus nine, as I poured hot coffee into Evan's Thermos I remember how in Africa we used to make coffee in a jam jar, wrapped in a tea towel to keep it warm. We'd head out at dawn then stop by a watering hole for a breakfast of coffee and biscuits, watching the heat from the fat golden sun distort the air into shimmering ripples. The richness and depth of the colours would be almost overwhelming. The deep blue of the huge sky, the lush green of the leaves and the warm red of the earth. By mid-day the strength of the sun would physically hurt your skin, as though you were leaning hard against a radiator set on high. It would be time to seek sanctuary in the shade, and lie there praying for even the slightest breeze.
Today though, at minus nine, in this land of black and white, it's time to bundle up in hats and scarves and gloves and jumpers and thick socks and coats and boots, and embrace this glorious winter weather.