All week the news has been full of pictures of snow: snow in the East of the country though, not here in Wales. I have watched the weather forecasters dither with whether the snow will hit the West and now, this morning, the forecast has plumped heavily for a large snowfall on Friday. What do you do in the city with the prospect of snow? I think I used to dig out my slightly furrier boots, hope that the traffic wouldn't be too awful and go to bed. Up here there is more to think about.
Today it is iron cold but with no snow yet. I go down to the chickens to break the ice on the water and give them some extra corn. I put some more shavings in the house and wonder what else I can do before the snow comes. Not much, I think. Chickens are not keen on snow and will stay inside if there is much snow on the ground, occasionally coming out for a petulant peck and scratch before retreating to the house again. Hens are not bothered hugely about the cold as far as I can tell but they don't like wet and they don't seem to like walking on snow, reasonably enough.
Then I go to the pond to break the ice on there. It is half over grown with a dense weed which I didn't clear last year and this seems to stop the ice being so thick. Somewhere down in the depths there are fish, but the water is dark, icy and still today and there is no sign of life of any kind.
What else do I need to think about, with my feet icing up in their wellies and my hands still snug in their fingerless gloves? When the snow comes we will need to dig a path out to the cars and to the stone pigsty which is our log store. It won't be much help if the shovel is in the other old pigsty, right down at the bottom of the kitchen garden. I go down for it and lean it against the wall by the kitchen door. Then I go filling the log buckets. I know I will have used everything I bring inside this morning by the time evening comes today so there will be more log carting to be done tonight but I will try and keep a good fire going in the stove today, bank it up and keep it in overnight.
What about food if we find ourselves snowed in? We are lucky up here because although we are high up a hill there is a communications mast even higher than we are and the road is kept well gritted to provide access. Even so a really heavy snowfall might stop us getting up out of our property as far as the road for a day or so, despite the four by four and the winter tyres. If you live somewhere like this, away from the shops and the supermarket, you do tend to keep a well stocked freezer and a well stocked store cupboard. I poke around in the freezer and we have loads to eat. We have our own supply of potatoes still going strong and a sack of onions. I think we could eat reasonably well for a couple of weeks if we had to. That hardly counts if you want to prepare yourself for environmental disaster or the collapse of civilisation as we know it but it will do for a snowy weekend.
How easy it is now, even for those of us living deep in the countryside. We have power and light and water and the magic interconnectedness of the internet. If we have problems with power we have the stove and packs of candles. I think as I often do up here of what life must have been like for our predecessors. They would first and foremost have had animals to feed: the cows, sheep and pigs which were their livelihood. How long must that have taken every morning, trudging around the animals to keep them fed in the deepest snow? Inside the house only the kitchen must have been warm with the big range cooker lit day and night but the job of feeding that with fuel must have been a labour in itself. Away from the kitchen the bedrooms must have been icy cold. Water would have come from the spring up by the lane. Darkness when it fell would have been almost total. In richer households than ours candles would have been lit but even candle light is barely enough to read or work by unless you burn them by the lorry load. In a small farm like this the lights would have been rushlights, made using the fat from the pigs. They burn with a dim smoky light and a foul smell. No wonder people went to bed instead but how early that must have been. At five in the evening there is still a small amount of light left in the sky although it doesn't penetrate the two foot thick walls and the small windows. By six the darkness is solid.
The sky is grey and the air is bitterly cold. I come inside again and take up my knitting by the fire, a lamp glowing on the table beside me.
I wonder "Will it snow?"