Ducks on the Ice

Well, here we are, talking about the weather again! It’s only a few weeks since normal life was halted by floods. Now everything is disrupted by snow, which may be no great shakes to those of you living in colder climes, but is the main talking point here in the UK, where we never seem to be prepared for anything – the weather always seems to take us by surprise – whether it’s wind, rain, snow or sunshine! So really, my Saturday Snapshot photos this week could only be weather pictures.

In fact, weatherwise it’s been a bit of an odd week. On Monday I woke to find everything covered in a fine layer of snow, not very deep, but definitely more than a sprinkling. We had snow, sleet, rain and more snow, but it was that wet kind of snow, which doesn’t settle.

I went for a walk across the Castle/Pleasure Grounds, round by the side of the Snow Dome (who needs it in weather like this!), across the grass to the lake to look at the swans, back under the roadbridge, and then over this nice green and yellow bridge to the out-of-town shopping area. Thanks to the boots, my feet were warm and dry, but the rest of me was so cold and wet I bought new gloves and a woollen snood to try and get warm, then walked into town and caught a bus home!
On Tuesday, as you can see in the picture above, the sky was blue, and the sun shone, even if it didn’t give out much warmth, and there wasn’t a trace of snow or ice.

But on Wednesday the temperature dropped, and a heavy frost turned the landscape into a sparkling winter wonderland. This holly looked a variegated species, but the white around the edges is frost, and the little speckles on the surface (which look like hairs)  are little spikes of frost.

And I love way the berries and leaves on the plant pictured above were covered in frost as well, looking like a picture on a Christmas card.

Thursday was cold and dull, but on Friday winter set in with a vengeance – it was a white-out! It snowed… and snowed… and snowed… kids were sent home from school, buses and trains were cancelled, roads were impassable… so I braved the elements and walked as far as the canal, where I peered over the snow-covered bridge to take this picture because I was so intrigued by the winding shape of snow on the centre of the frozen water. I wish I knew why it had settled like that!

 Today it’s not quite as cold, and it hasn’t snowed, but there’s no sign of a thaw and, according to the forecast, there’s more snow on the way. But we were determined to get some fresh air and enjoy the wintry scene, so we went for a short walk along the towpath. The canal was frozen, except for the areas around the bridges, and the path was very snowy, but not icy or or slippery, so it wasn’t too bad underfoot. I couldn’t resist taking pictures of ducks in the snow and on the ice.

More Saturday Snapshot pictures are hosted by Alyce at http://athomewithbooks.net/


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A Winter Landscape

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson is darker than either ‘The Summer Book’ or ‘A Winter Book’ (although ‘The Squirrel’, one of the short stories in the collection, is a little peculiar). But it is every bit as wonderful. With Jansson, little things mean a lot, and her writing is so deceptively simple it’s almost hypnotic, drawing you into a strange world word by word, rhythm by rhythm. In ‘The True Deceivers’ you find yourself in an alien world of snow and ice that’s bleaker and far more bitter than Narnia or the land of the Snow Queen.

“It was an ordinary dark winter morning, and snow was still falling. No window in the village showed a light,” writes Jansson. And you wonder, because the scene seems so extraordinary.

It had been snowing along the coast for a month. As far back as anyone could remember, there hadn’t been this much snow, this steady snow piling up against doors and windows, and never stopping, not even for an hour. Paths filled with snow as quickly as they were shovelled out. The cold made work in the boat sheds impossible. People woke up late because there was no longer any morning. The village lay soundless under untouched snow until the children were let out and dug tunnels and caves and shieked an were left to themselves.

The residents of Vasterby are as cold and unemotional as the landscape in which they live. There is friendless loner Katri Kling, with her shaggy fur coat, and her eyes as yellow as the unnamed, wolfish dog which accompanies her everywhere. There is her younger brother Mats, who is slow and silent but dreams of designing and building his own boat. And there is elderly artist Anna Aemelin, who looks like a rabbit, and lives on her own in a big, old house (which also looks like a rabbit), and paints beautiful detailed pictures of the forest floor – then peoples them with unnatural, flowery rabbits.

Katri, regarded with suspicion by residents in the tiny Swedish village, is a mathematical wizard, who wants things to be clean and pure. She distrusts people and wants to make money so she never has to worry about it again, and her brother can have his boat, and somewhere safe to live. She befriends Ann, fakes a burglary at the old woman’s home – then moves in, with her brother, and takes over Anna’s life. She writes letters to the children who buy Anna’s picture books, and examines her finances, claiming back ‘missing’ money and insisting on fees being increased. She keeps an account of everything in a little notebook, but extra money is set aside for Mats. And, most of all, Katri destroys destroys Anna’s faith in humanity, telling her that everyone is cheating her.

Anna and Katri seem to have an almost symbiotic relationship, and each seems to supply something the other lacks, quite apart from companionship. They are opposites, in their nature and their view of the world, but by the end each has changed.

Anna never paints in the winter, but when spring comes, and the weather thaws, and the forest floor can be seen again, she finds she can no longer work, until Katri recants her earlier allegations about cheating, claiming she lied. Like much else in the novel, there is no way of telling whether this story is true, or whether Katri tells Anna what she thinks she needs to hear. At any rate, Anna is now able to pick up her brushes and paints, and begins to produce her best work, without the rabbits, which she no longer needs.

The novel raises questions about truth in relation to art, the way others see us, and the way we see ourselves. Truth and lies are not always easy to separate, and self-deception can be dangerous, and we need to be true to ourselves – but it can be hard to know what that truth is.

I love Jansson’s writing, and can’t understand why anyone would give her books away, but it’s worked to my advantage, because I’ve found three of them, all published by Sort Of Books, and all in tip-top condition, looking as if they’ve never been read. So now I’ve got my eyes open for ‘Travelling Light’, ‘Fair Play’, and ‘Art in Nature’, which are also produced by Sort Of.

Edited: Oops, forgot the title!

Snow Fall

The snow has almost gone, but it looked so pretty while it was here that I couldn’t resist posting Robert Bridges’ poem, ‘London Snow’, because I always think it really captures the silent way snow falls in the night, and the wonder of the morning when you wake and everything is transformed. And, since I’m not in London, here is a photo I took of Tamworth Castle in the snow, and another of the river.

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
      Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:
      Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.
      All night it fell, and when full inches seven
It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness,
The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;
      And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marveled – marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
      The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.
      Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
      Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;
Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder,
‘O look at the trees!’ they cried, ‘O look at the trees!’
      With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,
Following along the white deserted way,
A country company long dispersed asunder:
      When now already the sun, in pale display
Standing by Paul’s high dome, spread forth below
His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.
      For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;
And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,
Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:
      But even for them awhile no cares encumber
Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,
The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber
At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.