Outside the kitchen window, an alarm call alerts me to an unexpected presence. Glancing out, the movement catches my eye. It seems I have a new neighbour. Russet brown against white snow. A weasel pops out of a hole formed between snow and wall. A hastily run out and then back in again. Then again. Head pokes out first, trembling. A quick dart to the side, out of sight, under the snow. Then a return, running low, grey mouse in mouth. It shimmers up the snow bank, and then down under the oil tank. At least under there it will be dry, and sheltered from the worst of the elements.
Outside is cold, a monochrome world. Grey skies laden with more snow above. The community has rallied round, paths are being cleared, roads kept open. The bird feeders have almost descended to ground level, the bush in which they hang is so weighted down by the snow. Getting to the feeders requires an athletic feat, plunging thigh deep in snow. Still the birds come, desperate for food in this freezing land.
The snow continues to fall. Over the top of my knees today. I declare play-time and head out, wrapped up warmly. I clear a path to the woodshed, piling the snow in one heap. Then time to be creative. I pat down the snow around the hump, creating a snowman. Then another lump for a head, patted firmly in place, snow inserted to support the neck. A couple of old branches for the arms, some gravel for the smile. Twenty minutes of simple pleasure, before nose and toes grow numb again.
Still snowing. I head out on my rounds, trudging through the snow. Time to check-up on various folk. The restrictions of Covid mean conversations on the doorstop. The restrictions of snow mean I cannot stay chatting – more snow spirals down from above as I walk. The mounds of snow edging the pavements make crossing from one side to another is an obstacle course. In the square the big lorries have arrived, along with a giant snow-blower. Slowly they fill to the brim with snow. The ploughmen are working hard today, up and down the streets. The drive is blocked again, but a neighbour pops by with his own small snow blower. Ten minutes and it is done. Then the digging of the front path, and, today, steps made in the plough debris for postie. Time for a well-earned cup of tea while toes and nose defrost.
Relentless. White on white, swirling clouds, greying the skies. The foot of snow causes the log pile roof to collapse, covering the path to the logshed. Time to call in reinforcements. We dig and chat, slowly clearing the weight so that the plywood sheet can be lifted out of the way. Then a sit and a catch-up, forming seats from the banks of snow, packed hard under our weight. The tea is a welcome warmth in the icy air. Next the entrance to the drive. Another 5 inches and the plough debris to clear. Round to the front, struggling through the depth of snow round the side of the house. Clear out the path to the front door yet again – I did this yesterday, and the days before. Today the access to the street is blocked – snowplough debris again. We slowly chip away at it, until we can get out on to the road. And the snow still falls. Relentless.
First time in a while to walk alongside the river. The constant cold this month means that it has almost frozen over, only a narrow channel left where the water rushes through. The fresh snow lies on top of the ice, creating the illusion of solid ground. If you listen carefully, you can hear the water shushing beneath. Step gently here.
The ice is back, thickly coating the streets with frozen snow. I venture out briefly to dust off the wall where the blackbird perches, scattering some birdseed for her. The sparrows are fluffed up like little balls of fleece. The robin watches me warily from his perch on the log pile. The chaffinch shrieks his objection from the rowan tree. This is my place, he seems to say. Retreating back inside, I stand at the kitchen window, hot tea in hand, and watch the birds descend.
The loch is frozen, with only a few patches clear for the wildfowl clustered together. From here it looks as though you can walk out to the crannog, although to do would result in an icy bath. Last nights dusting of snow has created a frosted effect, like sprinkles on a cup-cake. I tap it gently with my pole and listen. The sound rings out through the stillness, echoing like fairy chimes, raising a raucous response from the ducks.
The snow came again last night. Waking, I sense the hush outside, sound absorbed by the white coating. The morning blue light reflects from the ground. I head out to clear the car. The grass is covered with bird prints, from pigeons who hang about under the feeders, to the blackbird that hops along. A rustle comes from the ivy-covered wall, and out pops the robin to say hello.
Trying to avoid the frozen path, I head home across the golf course. The hoar frost is sticking out on the bushes, spikes in all directions. Autumn’s last leaves are outlined in white, and the blades of grass each have their own decoration. Each step has a soft crunch of accompaniment. A skating rink has overtaken the greens, melted snow now frizen solid. No way round. I slide my feet over the ice, one by one, carefully placing my stick ahead of me. Skating along until I reach the rough with a sigh of relief. Up now, through the birch trees, silver black in their winter dress. Then homewards bound for lunch.