It’s snowed all through January in our part of the country, and it’s been lovely to see our garden under a thick blanket of soft, white snow, such a contrast from the colourful tangle of wildflowers in the summer. Over the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed waking up and knowing it’s snowed without drawing the curtains as somehow the light seems diffused and a hush falls over the world. I much prefer a cold winter with frost and snow to a mild but wet one.
This weekend my husband and I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, and it’s been lovely to sit by the window for an hour with a cup of coffee counting the birds in our garden. Over the autumn and winter, I’ve been filling the feeders with suet balls and seed mixes, and scattering breadcrumbs and dried fruit on the ground for the family of sparrows living in the hedge as well as the blue tits, blackbirds, robins and starlings that visit our garden.
The snow has gradually melted away revealing the first shoots of our spring bulbs poking out of the soil. I’ve missed spending time in the garden over the winter, but until the weather improves I’ll savour the contrast of the cold and darkness outside with the warmth of the fire and soft glow of candlelight in our home.
Over the last few weeks, the long, dark midwinter evenings have given me the perfect excuse to sit by the fire and make a start on the pile of new books waiting to be read. It has been snowing on and off all week in our part of the country, making Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child seem like an appropriate story to start with.
Set in 1920, The Snow Child centres around Jack and Mabel, a married couple in their mid-forties from Pennsylvania grieving the stillbirth of their baby, and attempting to make a new life for themselves on a homestead in Alaska. Both lost in their own grief, Jack and Mabel hope it will be a fresh start away from all the reminders of their loss, but the reality proves quite different from their expectations as Alaska turns out to be a beautiful but harsh and unforgiving landscape.
One winter night, caught up in the magic of the first snowfall, they build a child in the snow – a little girl – but the very next day they find their snow child smashed and foot prints leading away from it. Not long after, they begin to see a little girl around their homestead and wandering in the wilderness. As the seasons and years pass, the reader is left wondering whether the snow child is just a feral orphan left to fend for herself or a fairy-tale brought to life by the couple’s desperate longing.
The Snow Child is split into three parts, and I found the final part – which jumps ahead several years – the weakest section as it seemed disjointed as it rushed towards the end. Despite this, I loved the descriptions of life on the homestead and the struggle to cultivate the land, making friends with their coarse-mannered but kind-hearted neighbours, the beautiful Alaskan winters and the mysterious snow child who seemed to haunt the land. The Snow Child is an ideal story to read under a cosy blanket with a cup of hot chocolate while the wind howls and the snowflakes fall outside.
Somehow Christmas Day always ends up being busier than we expect as we try to juggle seeing both sides of the family with preparing Christmas dinner, and picking up my grandmother in the morning and returning her home in the evening.
Christmas morning began with a quick tour of my brother-in-law’s new home before visiting the rest of the in-laws to exchange gifts, catch up over giant mugs of coffee and fuss over their twenty-year-old cat.
As my mum has multiple sclerosis, which affects her dexterity and balance, dad has taken over preparing and cooking our family’s Christmas dinner, though the rest of us all lend a hand. The hard work in the kitchen is always worth the effort though to gather around a dining table groaning under a mountain of food with my husband, parents and grandmother to enjoy a three course Christmas feast, pull crackers and exchange gifts. The older I get the harder it is to reply when anyone asks me what I’d like for Christmas (or birthdays) as most of the things I value most cannot be bought and it is time with my loved ones that I appreciate most.
I was recovering from a cold on New Year’s Eve and my husband has never liked crowds so we stayed at home playing a board-game called Carcassonne that my father-in-law gave us for Christmas, eating a cheeseboard and sipping Champagne with Jools Holland’s Hootenanny in the background and our cat Mara snoozing in front of the fire. There was a frenzy of phone and video calls with parents, in-laws and our closest friends at midnight that took up almost the whole first hour of 2018. It was exactly the simple end to a stormy year, and joyful beginning to a new one that we both wanted.
On New Year’s Day after a lazy morning, we met up with a couple of friends in Falkirk for the Fire and Light Walk. The short trail took us past illuminated trees, paper lanterns and a choreographed fire dance in front of the Kelpies. Before leaving we scribbled wishes on strands of ribbon and tied them to a wicker clootie tree. Wrapped up in winter coats with cold hands curled around cups of hot chocolate, it was a lovely way to spend the evening.
2017 was a difficult year for us, and no doubt 2018 will bring new challenges, yet I can’t help but feel hopeful about the possibilities of a fresh start, and we have already begun setting our fitness goals and reading challenges, thinking about holidays and making plans for the year ahead.