SOUTHSIDE STORIES

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Full Circle 1: Snowfall Memories

by Dakshina Gammanpila

The first dusting of snow in December was nothing compared to the snowfall this past weekend. My son had been assiduously following the met reports heralding ‘the Beast from the East 2’ (its predecessor having hit UK shores in late February 2018), and we have all become earnest weather watchers. It’s going to snow but will it stay, we wonder? Friends and family ask whether, in our rural idyll, we have enough supplies and warmth; meanwhile in Delhi, friends awaiting our return say all is warming up and the flowers are in bloom.

On a birthday zoom call our godson looks on in wonder at the scene outside our windows, displayed by my glee-filled children who would love to share the fun – hurl snowballs, sledge, build igloos – with friends. They have been brought up in tropical climes in South America and Asia, snow is very much a novelty. Any snow with you, we ask? About 7 flakes, the forlorn response. Venturing out to survey the garden and surrounding fields and were not disappointed.

The horse in the neighbour’s paddock looked happy sporting a winter coat, steam rising from flared nostrils (the horse’s, I hasten to add, not mine). Indeed my first thoughts are for the wildlife – we are cozy and warm in the farmhouse, plenty of logs for the fire and supplies galore in the pantry. Two teenagers undertaking online school ensures that tasty treats are constantly on hand. What of our creature community?

The abundant birdlife assures us that all is well. The woodpecker is already hammering away on a not too distant birch. Robin red breast is flitting hither and thither surveying his territory. A brace of pheasants (live ones) swoop low and we hear their call; sweet little blue tits flit amongst the snow laden branches. A song thrush hunkers down and puffs his feathers as insulation on one of the apple trees, which only a short while ago were festooned with apples, their boughs now laden with a harvest of snow.

A jaybird hangs precariously, performing like a foraging trapeze artist. Moorhens and coots from the small boating lake at the bottom of the garden make meandering tracks. All finding food in the lichen, on tree trunks, hedgerows and undergrowth. The plumage of pheasants makes a beautiful contrast with the snow and one imperious specimen walks in through the tall wrought iron gates like the lord of the manor surveying his acres.  He is really quite comical as my son noted, especially when waist deep in snow (do birds have waists?) It may be frozen, but all this feathery activity warms our hearts.

Flowers too have begun to bloom early with the recent warmer weather. The bulbs have started to push through: I spotted January snowdrops and, on an afternoon stroll with the children, our first daffodil. Now there is a clump in the garden just buds – How will they fare? Would they withstand the frozen fury of the easterly beast? I went to inspect seeing them were covered with snow, heads bowed, all but buried. Only time would tell if they survived this icy blast. The wisteria and roses that festoon the front of the house are transformed by snow and ice into an ice queen’s frosty bouquet worthy of Miss Haversham.

Snow amplifies both silence and sound. Suddenly the stillness is pierced by an engine – a large one. A combine or a tractor? Well, we are in farming country. A snow plough eases itself down the country lanes clearing a path. Immediately a resourceful blackbird in its wake, looks for grubs in the cleared and slushy snow.

There are other delights: we chart the progress of icicles, a few well over half a metre in length. They drip feed the ground with their melt water, only to freeze again overnight. The sun comes out to illuminate the white-washed perfection, catching the icicle in its beam a suspended rainbow. Snow and sun, that jackpot combination. The ground veritably sparkles, yielding diamond dust. I marvel at the fact that each snowflake is individual, indescribably beautiful in their complexity, each one unique. Unknowable until you study them up close, like humans. Collectively clustering together forming something wondrous.

Thrilled by the detail and minutiae we whoop with delight. The childish joy is palpable and we are literally skipping. My children are 7-year-olds once more. What a tonic from lockdown and news bulletins, from work and school and tests and deadlines. These past few months, unplanned and unexpected, have been a strange gift. Observing nature not seen in over a decade. The weather, seasons, sights and sounds of my childhood, so it is not only my children who time travel.

My daughter throws her arms around me and gives me a kiss. A 16 year transported to another realm – my snow princess – as she traverses the little footbridge over the stream. So another project building a snowman. Unexpected joys spellbinding beauty the silence.

For me it offers respite from hospital tests which, because my late Father was head of the ICU at the county hospital, are filled with emotion. Everyone knew and loved him. The consultant surgeon is visibly saddened and one of the nurses was in tears, saying that he was the best doctor she had worked with so calm and kind to everyone – staff and patients alike.  Always willing to answer questions big or small. It made me feel so sad for the loss, but close to him too as if he were with me in the consultation room. On our return from yet another diagnostic test yesterday we encountered a mini blizzard, but when we eventually turned into our lane there was Mr. Pheasant ready to greet us, skirting the hedgerows, feathers startling in the snow, directing us home.

One of my earliest memories was being in the snow in my daddy’s arms. I was two and a half and he was running in the snow carrying me. But the backdrop was that I had pneumonia and he was taking me to hospital. My aunt, who was watching from a window told me years later that he was in tears, so desperate to get me to the hospital he slipped in the snow but kept me upright and safe aloft in his arms.

The last snowman we built as a family was at my parents’ house at New Year, four years ago It was the perfect snow. My Dad who would normally be in the midst of it, was ill watched from a window laughing, and threw us a scarf and hat to dress our snowy 6 foot creation. My parents had experienced 7 years of snow in Moscow where they studied to become doctors, and numerous winters in the UK where they worked in the National Health Service for nearly 50 years. That snowfall would be the last for my Dad. It is Valentine’s Day in a couple of days and the romance of the landscape that meets our eyes is not lost on us. Such otherworldly magnificence. As I finish this sentence I hear a call and look out of the window; his lordship Mr. Pheasant stands in the gateway calling out – come on out to play, he seems to urge. By the time you read this, our ephemeral snowman will have melted, but in constructing him in all his wintery glory, we built memories to last a lifetime.

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