It’s snowing here.
On left, 15 cm (July 12), and on right, 10 cm (Aug. 7-8 – photo taken Aug. 9)
It keeps snowing; it just keeps pouring down, not like any meteorological phenomenon but as if some dense and infinite reservoir above has been opened with a knife and the snow is pouring out through that rip as fast as it can, falling like feathers …
… we watch, soothed and lulled, and unable, for long moments, to turn away. It’s more mesmerizing than fire. You feel that you can stare at it forever. You feel it binding you with its stillness, pulling you down and into that sleeping sameness …
from The Wild Marsh by Rick Bass
I watch the snow fall like feathers, and I feel soothed and lulled by it. Falling snow is so mesmerizing it’s hard to turn away. I feel it binding me with its stillness, pulling me down and into that sleeping sameness.
Gifts from the gods – snow, the “meteorological phenomenon”, yes, but also the stumble upon a passage echoing how you feel when you watch snow fall. Author, chapter, verse and line – of yet another book you’ve read about the natural world and your place within it – seen in a yet brighter light now that you’ve made a connection at a deeper level of your being.
To live snuggled up to our mountains, and to go all winter without walking our 10 acres blanketed in snow – 10 to 20 cm at least – would be like living on the coast and to go all summer without walking the beach and going for a swim in the sea. Barely a flurry over the two winters preceding, then 15 cm mid July, 10cm early August, brings into sharper focus the significance of its absence. The climate changing ‘at a glacial pace’ no longer means ‘very slowly’, because, like most glaciers, the meltdown is accelerating.
We all now know that human caused (‘anthropogenic’ if that’s more to your liking), climate change is anything but a new game in town. However, when you look at what we’ve been made aware of on a global scale in the last few years, it sure seems like the new game in town.
Here, at Little Owl Gully, we’ll hope to continue to score the game over four distinct seasons. And we’ll continue to go into bat against elemental extremes, hoping all the while that, for the most part, they’ll stay within bounds, observing boundaries we can set a field for. And in those extreme times when ‘to go into bat’ is ‘to go into battle’, I hope we’ll survive well enough to reignite the promise of coming out the other side with more than a hollow victory, because the scorecard of our lives, and the scorecard of all the other life forms we share it with, is a seasonal one, underscored by the elements.
To the ancient Greeks the four elements were simply: earth, fire, wind and water. We invoke them still, when summoning the forces behind all life on earth. And I like the Canadian nature writer Farley Mowat’s idea, again harking back to an ancient Greek source for inspiration, that we should add a fifth element: snow. I used the following quotation from a Mowat essay on snow when writing about the 3 cm we got in early June 2020:
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.
Re-reading that earlier post, The Year’s First Snow, I see that I sold Mowat and my readers short by not letting him tell his story, the one that places the fifth element in a largely contemporary setting. (The historic and much romanticised notion of ‘ether’ as the fifth element is another story entirely!) The non-fiction piece opens Farley Mowat’s book Snow Walker; it’s full of passages that superbly illustrate his argument: Farley Mowat – The Snow Walker.pdf (archive.org) For those of you who want it in brief, I selected the following excerpt:
… glaciers are but another guise of snow.
Glaciers are born while the snow falls; fragile, soft and almost
disembodied .. . but falling steadily without a thawing time. Years
pass, decades, centuries, and the snow falls. Now there is weight
where there was none. At the surface of an undulating white
waste, there seems to be no alteration, but in the frigid depths the
crystals are deformed; they change in structure, interlock with
increasing intimacy and eventually meld into black, lightless ice.
Four times during Earth’s most recent geological age snow fell
like this across much of the northern half of our continent and in
Europe and Asia too. Each time, snow altered the face of almost
half a world. A creeping glacial nemesis as much as two miles
thick oozed outward from vast central domes, excoriating the
planet’s face, stripping it of life and soil, ripping deep wounds
into the primordial rock and literally depressing Earth’s stone
mantle hundreds of feet below its former level. The snow fell,
softly, steadily, until countless millions of tons of water had
vanished from the seas, locked up within the glaciers; and the seas
themselves withdrew from the edges of the continents.
There is no natural phenomenon known to us that can surpass
the dispassionate power of a great glacier. The rupturing of Earth
during its most appalling earthquake cannot compare with it. The
raging water of the seas in their most violent moments cannot
begin to match it. Air howling in the dementia of hurricanes is
nothing beside it. The inner fire that blows a mountain to pieces
and inundates the surrounding plains with floods of flaming lava
is weak by comparison
“Falling like feathers” said Rick Bass.”… Snow altered the face of half a world” said Farley Mowat. The fifth element, ethereal but oh so worldly.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.