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Like Miss Smilla, I now have a feeling for snow
Editor: Scottish Edition, The Times
Filed 01Jan 10
This article was originally published in The Tines on 31st December 2009.
It is reproduced here with the kind permission of its author and of the newspaper.
Never have I been more grateful to be in a ditch
Miss Smilla had a feeling for snow. She used it in Peter Høeg’s novel to track down a murderer, and could discourse on its molecular composition at great length. My own feeling for the stuff is a bit more tangible. I have spent the past ten days fighting my way through it, over it and under it in the course of the coldest weather we have experienced in the Scottish Highlands for a decade. Last night the temperature dipped to minus 18C. The snow is 3ft deep. We have been living with it since the week before Christmas and it shows no sign of moving.
Veterans — I include myself — claim that this is how our winters used to be. Maybe, but when you are well beyond the reach of the council gritter, when your only means of access (or egress) is a three-mile death trap of a road, and when your only means of keeping it open is a snowplough on the back of a tractor that you have never used in your life, then you have to reach deep. In these circumstances I find Henry Ford’s comment helpful, if enigmatic: “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”
What Miss Smilla could probably have told me is that snow — and ice — change during the day. One moment the road is soft with newly fallen snow, the next it has turned to sheet ice. In these circumstances a Land Rover is useless. I came down the road mainly sideways, once turned a full 360 degrees, and ended up in the ditch. Never have I been more grateful to end up in a ditch.
The people I had gone down to rescue were from Cumbria, and very cheerful. We set off walking up the hill in the dark. We fell a lot, but remained cheerful. An hour and a half later we were slightly less cheerful, but we had made it. There was a sense of achievement. Ranulph Fiennes will know how we felt.
The snowplough was a different proposition. A massive thing, like the prow of ship, it had been fixed to the back of a Massey-Ferguson tractor of uncertain temperament. The man who usually drove it was stuck at the bottom of the road. He gave me telephone instructions. They were brief. “Raise and lower it with the yellow lever on your right. Not the green one. Nae worries, it’s not rocket science.” He was wrong. Negotiating a snowplough backwards down an icy slope, while remembering to use the yellow lever, not the green one, make rocket science child’s play. It also gives you a permanent crick in the neck.
But, readers, I did it, and you know what? The triumph was palpable. That’s the thing about snow. It makes you do things you have never even thought about. Next week, more on molecular composition. For the time being it’s back to the tractor. Yellow lever or green?
Further reading recommended by Land-Care
Irvine, James (2009). The prolonged freeze during the last fortnight of 2009.
See HOMEPAGE, filed 31Dec09, www.land-care.org.uk Click Here to View