word from Wormingford
Ronald Blythe still feels a sense of wonder at the sight of snow
IT IS a relief to find that one does not gain a mature vision of everything — that the first sight of snow, for example, will be as serviceable, wonder-wise, as that of all the snowfalls in one’s life. A six-inch snowfall establishes a presidency that takes our breath away, partly by its nerve, partly by its loveliness, bringing our ant movements to a halt, transforming everything from twig to a cathedral. There are no permanent snowfields in this country, so that even the white tops of the Welsh and Scottish mountains are ephemeral, year-lasting though they may appear.
As children, we would hang on to our snow. A patch in a ditch would tantalisingly last for a week or two after a thaw. We would visit it and tell it to hang on. Or our snowman would melt to a kind of licked lolly, his pipe slipped away, his face dripping and eyeless, yet still greyly what we had made him seemingly ages ago; and he, too, was urged to endure.
Snow is water vapour that has been frozen at a high altitude into exquisite crystals that are precipitated on to the earth, like rain, by gravity. The pattern of each snow crystal is endlessly various and beautiful beyond description. Snow is autocratic, commanding its own silence, bringing our world to a halt. Yet such is our disbelief in its rule, from Mr Woodhouse in Emma to the Channel Tunnellers, that we set out when it begins to fall. Naturally, his carriage will be in trouble from it, but our carriages?
House-sized trucks swing this way and that on the motorway. One of life’s little luxuries is to watch the world sliding about on a television screen, the fire blazing, the snow enthroned for as far as one can see, and those who think that they can beat it in a rare old muddle.
It drifted into my farm-track, and Henry the Vicar saw Jamie the postman gallantly stumbling through it with my letters. The horses wore their snow blankets and steamed in groups; the blackbirds fed on a square of swept grass; the oaks and ashes groaned and creaked; the churchwardens considered cancellations; and the snow snowed and snowed.
The forecasts were as black as the weathermen could make them, and their disaster-prone prose rose to new heights. The white cat watched from a safe window. It was her scene. I read my Christmas presents, The English Poems of George Herbert by
Helen Wilcox, Ravilious in Pictures: Sussex and the Downs by James Russell, and the quite marvellous At Large and At Small by Anne Fadiman, “the confessions of a literary hedonist”. It takes one to find one.
On the Sunday after Christmas, I rescued St Stephen from under seasonal trash. It is quite awful how the simple glories of the Stall slide into murder and Sight, and so quickly. And poor young Saul, guarding the coats. How do men live with the faces of those they killed? Although Paul said “I am what I am”, and was not what he was, the wintry execution remained an icicle in his heart.
The earth was hard as iron, we sang, and the crib blocked my way to the pulpit. Today, the snow has gone, and the dead roses wave in the wind. Countless snowdrop tips prick through the mulch into the wood. It is very cold. Young friends come to lunch all the way from Dorset, leaving their baby behind. It might snow. You never know. Not these days.