landscape

Towards a Yorkshire dictionary of snow…

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Malhamdale in a ‘snadding’. A what?! Read on…

Looking back over the entries to this journal there’s a definite bias towards winter themes and more than a touch of appreciation for snowy scenery.  If a reader had never visited Malhamdale they might have the impression that it’s by and large an icy wilderness populated by shivering sheep.  Nothing could be further from the truth… in fact during a recent snowfall one long term resident told me it had be several years since snow had lain as thickly – although it used to be more of an annual event, the rules of climate change applying here in Airton as in the rest of the country…

There’s a simple explanation to my blogging more in the winter.  It’s a time more than ever when the landscape I love to explore and write about seems to change faces from day to day with varying light levels, low sun angles, atmospheric moisture, and yes, the comings and goings of the snow.  On the other hand, at this time of year the Barn is less busy, so whilst I enjoy the outdoors throughout the year, there’s more time in winter to write about it.  Perhaps I hope to tempt a few more visitors to experience the magic of a Malhamdale winter!  (Though unfortunately the daily changes in weather that make it so interesting for me mean that snow and frost can’t be guaranteed to ice the cake of a stay in Airton at any time of year.)

By the river below Airton in a ‘snidding’. That’s right.

However, there’s more to my penchant for wintry walks and snowy tales than aesthetic appreciation or convenient timing.  Winter might be the dog end of the year, with its gloomy, short days and brown, muddy fields but the annual stasis of the natural world is also a prompt to slow down and be a little less preoccupied myself.  Just as the best ideas often come to people during sleep, the energies needed for the coming months can be gathered during winter.  Deliberately taking the foot off the throttle a little can allow the germ of new things to emerge from the compost of what has gone before – interests, projects, even at times an entirely new direction.  Of course, this doesn’t have to happen in winter, but the analogy is both convenient and resonant.

Here’s a new thing: with every winter’s day looking different here in the Dales, it’s not hard to understand the legendary proliferation of Innuit words for snow.  I’ve counted at least 3 types only today…  So I’ve looked a bit into whether ‘the Yorkshire Dialect’ (of which I know there are many variants) can make any similar claims.  The result?  The only word I can find for snow is ‘snah’.  Now that seems remiss to me, so I’ve made an entirely unauthorised executive decision and would like to propose the following completely made up pseudo-dialetical words for the stuff in at least some of its forms:

frickle                   snow falling as light, dryish flecks

snarush                snow falling in thick wet clumps of snowflakes

snamush              the same but already half way to melting by the time they reach the ground

slat                        sleet

snawhit                a blizzard – a proper white-out

frish                      snow like a grainy powder showing up the crevices in stone walls

frawp                    a dusting of snow on wet grass

frash                     a thin layer of wettish snow laying on top of partly thawed ice

freck                     a thin layer of cold, dry snow laying on top of an even colder layer of ice

squaff                   snow that squeaks under foot

flurrm*                 an impending snowfall that makes the sky look pinkish

flerrm*                 an impending snowfall that makes the sky look yellow

slurrm*                an impending snowfall under a damp grey sky

slah                       slush

drish                     snow that’s been chopped about and got riddled o’ dirt

snud                      compacted snow that’s been driven on

snadding              a full blanket of snow on a damp overcast day

snidding               a full blanket of snow lit up by sunshine (the best sort)

*In these examples, the double ‘r’ should be pronounced as a separate syllable.

[If ever any of these words get into regular use I’ll deny all knowledge.  And just in case one person’s snow is another person’s rotten cabbage, the same goes if they just happen to coincide with obscenities in any existing language or dialect.]

Well, I’m glad I’ve got that out there.  Now what were my jobs for the rest of January..?

Airton in the grip of a ‘snarush’.  According to the “Simon’s made-up dictionary of new Yorkshire snow-words” that is…

Look in, look out!

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Airton in the snow

In the spectacular landscapes of the Dales, the eye is constantly being drawn in every direction, pulled between the far distance and the nearest objects, fascinated by exquisite details and overwhelmed by the sweeping grandeur.  A covering of snow brings new clarity, revealing contours previously veiled under the dun colourings of grass and stone, so that it looks like the earth is newly born; and for a short, silent moment of amazement, all the rough edges and muddle of the world is forgotten.

The time seems ripe for such a moment.  After the noise of 2017, peppered with fearful and appalling events, as well as the compassion shown by the ordinary people who responded to them, we need to catch our breath.  Christmas always feels to me like a collective pause (at least once all the shopping, singing, decorating and cooking are over!) when the noise stops all too briefly and we each – consciously or unconsciously – look around to see what our world looks like today.

It can also become rather exclusive: a time when families gather, yes; but when those on their own become even more isolated.  This year, the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness has collated evidence from a range of organisations researching the prevalence and effects of loneliness in our society.  The results are worrying: people in all age groups and in many different situations experience loneliness, impacting on health, happiness and productivity and placing a burden on public services.  Loneliness can be physically painful – a continual knot in the stomach – like the faint echo of a bereavement for something that was never there.  For those on their own Christmas often doesn’t help.

But in the space that Christmas can at its best create, there is opportunity to reach out and include isolated people.  The family ‘unit’ beloved of back-to-basics politicians really is a modern invention, on its own a fragile thing; put it in a community, make it porous and outward facing and it becomes resilient, nurturing not only itself but the community at large, and receiving nurture from that community.  There are 52 weeks and 365 days in the year; having people from outside the immediate family round the table at Christmas can contribute to making that one meal the special celebration of community that Christmas has always been.

Can, but not ought.  It’s also right that each of us decides how to celebrate and whether we want to be together or to enjoy this time as a pause in our everyday proceeds and simply stand and take in the view.  Look closely enough and we might see something remarkable.  Listen and we might just hear the faint cries of a small baby inviting us to love for love’s sake and in that invitation, lead us simply to the surest hope available to our broken and confused world.

A joyous Christmas to all!

Getting used to nature’s timetable

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A new resident finds its feet in Malhamdale

Spring is at last well under way as Malhamdale glistens like a many faceted jewel.  Is it me or is the sunlight somehow cleaner than it’s been for months; cleaner here than anywhere else I’ve lived?

I say ‘at last’ as it seems to me in my impatience that my sowings and plantings are taking their time this year.  Moving north by 150 miles last autumn I should of course expect things to wake up more cautiously in this part of the world although weren’t those crocuses on display just as soon as in my home in the midlands?  The ‘early’ potatoes are particularly slow; in spite of weeks chitting followed by weeks in the soil, pre-enriched and pre-warmed under black cover, not a single shoot is emerging.  Broad beans are almost as shy.  I’ve all but given up on some shrubs and herbaceous perennials completely; but at least the Hostas in the bog garden I made after Christmas are sending up determined spears and will soon make a great show of leaves – if the slugs don’t stop them.

King Cups in the recently replanted bog garden

I shouldn’t be so impatient but that’s the kind of gardener I am: I want to be out making things happen to my timetable, testing nature’s boundaries with schemes to warm things up, catch the light, beat the pests, put on a show.  Nature, on the other hand, is quite happy with its own plan.  The scattering of flowers growing around the Meeting House without any intervention from me is proof of that.  Best be guided by its schedule rather than trying to control everything; grow what wants to grow when it wants to grow and not what doesn’t even if it’s feasible with large amounts of energy and inputs to force it.  That doesn’t stop tinkering of course.  In fact, it’s almost the first thing to do in a new place – otherwise how do you find out what will work?

One of the most useful pieces of advice from the world of permaculture is to ‘observe and interact’.  Both are crucial to discovering how to work with any particular environment.  We need to watch what happens naturally, then watch what happens if we move a pebble to know if moving pebbles is a good idea.  All very scientific and all quite challenging for impatient types like me.

On the money – Lunaria in flower

It doesn’t just go for gardens either.  Leaders of any description do well to wait a while before suggesting any changes to the way their teams, groups or movements go about things.  And in everyday life, moving to a new place prompts a great deal of finding out about how things tick, the better to find one’s place in the community.

What’s more, observing and interacting don’t need to stop; in fact they should never stop if we’re to be successful gardeners, group members, creatives, people.  Why?  Because like it or not, things evolve.  We only need to look at the state of the world in 2017 to verify that.