3 minutes reading time (587 words)

NOT REGRETTING THE GRITTER

Snow isn't like anything else.

Or perhaps that’s not quite true. The first time I ever went in an aeroplane (I was ten years old) and saw clouds from on top I thought they were snow. The astonishment and dazzle.

I like it when it gets into poems and stories and novels, fiction and non-fiction. The most prosaic of writers writes differently about snow. I remember when our golden retriever first saw snow: her excitement, her attempts to bite it, then jump in it, and roll in it, and chase her tail in circles. She was a drunk dog in the snow.

And it’s noiseless. It obliterates.

Poems have much to do with the relationship between words and silence. So snow and poems are friends. Letters on the page and white space. Footprints. The solitary tracks.

There hasn’t been much snow in my bit of Scotland for decades. But once you’ve seen it, you remember it. No-one forgets snow.

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But we don’t want it now, do we? We’re too grown-up to want roads closed and journeys interrupted. We don’t want to be stopped. Except for the bit of us that does.

When my father was dying in Cheshire, it snowed. It was early January and we drove with our two small children to see him after the heart attack. Only a five-hour journey. It wasn’t hard to get there. It looked like he might get better, or at least that nothing would happen fast, so after three days we drove back again, planning to return at the weekend. And then it snowed.

He was in Cheshire in a little hospital room – because soon he was moved from the ward where people may get better to the quiet wing where people don’t – and we were stuck in a Kingdom of snow. We couldn’t open the back door. The children couldn’t get into the garden. Roads stopped being roads. The A74 and the M6 shut up shop. When my husband finally got through to his workplace, he reported roads lined by white walls six feet high.

It was over a week before we got back to Cheshire. In the warm kitchen of my parents' house, I hugged my sister while the children ran round the hall and up and down the stairs. We'd made it. The phone rang. It was my mother, phoning from the hospital. Dad had just died, would we come and pick her up now, please.

This was twenty years ago. Last week I was with magical people doing writing exercises. One of them was this: take the phrase ‘It had snowed for twenty years’ and keep writing. Try it.

Snow brings strangeness, and surprise. It places you somewhere betwixt and between. A no-place. It isn’t unkind but it is absolute. For me, it’s the space between life and death, the space of no choice. Acceptance and astonishment.

Yesterday morning I was in Yorkshire, standing in it. It came in the night when we were fast asleep. It was hard to see because of the white-out and more of it falling, and the skies festooned with great grey looming swathes of cloud. The hills loomed in and out. One robin on a white wall.

But a gritter got through. I was too grown-up to regret the gritter. I sat on a train and the train took me to places where snow had never been.

Today outside our garden, there's just a white sprinkling on the flying saucers. You could think it was your imagination.

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HOMEWORK: WRITE A POEM ABOUT A LEG
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Comments 4

Guest - Joan Lennon on Sunday, 18 January 2015 11:07

Thank you for this.

Thank you for this.
Guest - Annie on Sunday, 18 January 2015 11:16

This is lovely Nell. Do you know Rabbit's Spring by Brian Patten:

Snow
goes

Ice
thaws

Warm
paws!

This is lovely Nell. Do you know Rabbit's Spring by Brian Patten: Snow goes Ice thaws Warm paws!
Guest - Nell Nelson on Sunday, 18 January 2015 11:24

No I didn't, Annie, but I do now! And love it!

No I didn't, Annie, but I do now! And love it! :)
Guest - Helen Ashley on Sunday, 18 January 2015 12:11

Not much snow in South Devon, thankfully. I'm content to read descriptions of it, as yours above. Also in Gillian Clarke's collection: 'Ice', and one of John Burnside's earlier poems: 'Snolosning'.

Not much snow in South Devon, thankfully. I'm content to read descriptions of it, as yours above. Also in Gillian Clarke's collection: 'Ice', and one of John Burnside's earlier poems: 'Snolosning'.
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