The Year’s First Snow
Graham R. Cooper
These days, I don’t like snow to catch me by surprise. I’ve been caught out a few times over the years. When you’ve got to live with it, occasionally for weeks on end, “bring it on” is an empty phrase. The child-like enchantment, though still there when you look for it, gets put to the back of the mind as you cope with the day-to-day realities of the white stuff and its aftermath.
The only surprise this time was the unmitigated good. We needed some rain, but not too much or too heavy. The 3cm or so of snow and the rain that followed saw me pouring out a pleasing 16mm from the rain gauge.
The metservice comes in for some stinging criticism, not least from farmers, when the severity of a snow storm has caught them and consequently the farmers by surprise. “Once bitten, twice shy”: you can catch the forecasters hedging their bets by not committing themselves to too much exactitude when it comes to snow.
The forecast was for snow for inland Canterbury but probably not down to the 400 metres possible further south. At 300 metres we knew we were in with a chance. Mid-to-late morning, a week last Saturday, over the course of about three hours, we got our approximately 3cm. The beginnings of winter and the year’s first snow.
I read somewhere that six inches of wet snow or eight inches of dry is the equivalent of one inch of rain. Our brief flurry was so full of moisture that nothing clung to wires, and on the ground and the tops of posts it soon turned to water.
The cows were on pasture saved for winter and were contentedly feeding on seeded grass stalks and long blades of grass when I went over to check on them. The strands of flimsy, loosely tensioned ‘temporary’ electric fencing had barely sagged.
June reported that all the goats were dry and in their shed eating hay. There were no tell-tale droppings on the snow. Minnie, the dominant doe, obviously hadn’t been too aggressive in her attempts at keeping all the hay for herself and her two kids: any butting and shunting going on hadn’t been determined enough to convince the other goats to take their chances braving the cold, the wet, and the snow.
I didn’t let the hens out, but they free-ranged the next day because the snow had all but gone. The hen house and run could accommodate a dozen hens, so our four hens don’t have it too bad when they’re kept in for a day or three.
We got off lightly this time. Nothing broken, torn, smashed and involving long hours of clean-up and repair afterwards. No power lines down and power out for days, and a drive that you can’t get the car up or down. No nights colder than minus 4 or 5 degrees Celsius.
The way snow challenges us here can be brutal. Especially when it becomes, at times, a day-to-day lived reality. But to live close to mountains and have snow fall and settle on Little Owl Gully: well, as much as at any other time, I’m in my element.
Snow is no less an elemental force than those of Fire, Earth, Air and Water. Snow, as Farley Mowat says, is “the fifth elemental”:
… the Greeks defined [the elemental forces] as Fire and Earth and Air and Water…
About 330 B.C., a peripatetic Greek mathematician named Pytheas made a fantastic voyage northward to Iceland and on into the Greenland Sea. Here he encountered the fifth elemental in all of its white and frigid majesty, and when he returned to the warm blue Mediterranean, he described what he had seen as best he could. His fellow countrymen concluded he must be a liar since even their vivid imaginations could not conceive of the splendour and power inherent in the white substance that sometimes lightly cloaked the mountain homes of their high-dwelling Gods.
The quotation is from an essay on snow by Farley Mowat.
We have experienced snowfalls at Little Owl Gully of much greater magnitude than the one I’ve written about this time. At such times it becomes a lived experience that makes it easier to understand why it is “the fifth elemental”. I’ll tell you about them sometime. Who knows, perhaps the impulse to tell that story will be triggered by the next time we are snowed in.
That’s all from Little Owl Gully till next Monday.
Bye for now. Thanks for your company.