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.
The sideroad and track are no longer passable by car. It is two days since I’ve been up on the hill. The tractor ploughs ahead, between white walls two feet high. In front of the porch the drifts have gathered, three feet tall, scuplted by the wind. I wade through to the door. While I collect what is needed, and pack a bag, the men dig a wider path. All this will need the box on the tractor to take it down to the cars, parked near the main road. The men load and we head back down. A quick unload and reload, and we are off in convoy, back to Ballater. The snow continues to fall. Snow shovels out and my drive is quickly cleared, then a quick wave and off they go. This is community.
The phone-call leads to a dash across the hills, then a rapid drive down into the next valley. The roads are not pleasant, but passable. Onwards to Aberdeen. Playing the waiting game for news, I head down to the sea. The waves are whipping up and over the seafront, and the rain hits with stinging force. Further out, the ships are queueing to come into port, hoping for a safe haven against the coming storm.
Today is the end of the beginning. I slither round the streets, delivering service sheets, checking on people, before heading home into the warmth. I sit, feet up on the sofa, knitting in hand. Teapot keeping warm under the teacosy. My newly knitted socks are warm and toasty on my feet – January’s project complete. The joy of friendship is shared across the miles, lessening winter’s grip. Five women joined by love of God and crafting. The miracle of zoom on a snowy evening.
The night’s frost has left a sugar glaze on the car windows. Scrapers out and heating on, skating around on frozen snow. The car slides down the freshly ploughed track, one wheel on the tractor tracks for traction. Then right turn, and foot on the accelerator to get up the hill. A thick line of snow and ice runs down the centre of the road, crunching underneath. The passing places have disappeared under mounds of white. Sharply upwards now on to the main road and I am safely on my way home.
We walk across the field, snow up to the top of our boots. The setting sun paints the scenery pale gold red, glowing in the later afternoon. Mountains are silhouetted against winter blue sky. Between the beech trees, the snow has drifted into fantastical sculptures, curved by the wind.