Then spree

Website of Nia Davies, poet, editor, writer, performer

Tag: snow


When I was 14, as a vague rebellion against my ski-mad father, I took up snowboarding. I put up with the sore bum-cheeks and burning biceps, I made regular trips to Sheffield’s dry scratchy ski village, I tumbled over repeatedly and had some knee-swelling encounters with ice. But I learnt to love the curving turns and slippery movement over the snow when eventually I reached it in one piece.

But it’s not an easy relationship with the sport. I am uncomfortably aware that ski resorts do a great deal of harm to the alpine environment. And I have a strong dislike of the preening, chortling upper classes that pile into the resorts every winter to splurge on an expensive and extravagantly wasteful pastime. I’m not keen on the over-heated apartments that pump out heat inefficiently. The way the trees are uprooted to plant ugly lifts from which pleasure-seekers flick their cigarette butts. Then there’s the carbon emissions of all the people who fly to the Alps to find the snow that has disappeared from lower slopes closer to home in the new warmer climate.

But I still love this deceptively simple activity.  The exhilaration of speed and curvature, the alpine breath fast in my throat and the glint of sky on snow, the view of god-big mountains all got up in their clear white finery.

I spent the last week with a group of friends in Risoul – a budget resort in the southern French Alps, full of students from the Sorbonne behaving in a surprisingly stereotypical Britishly drunken way. It was not the lavish get-up of Val d’Isre or Courchaval and on a quiet week we spotted red-black squirrels in the conifer and crested birds nibbling seeds on the decks of the empty après ski bars. The sun shone and I had the most raucous week. I read and wrote not a word and was tremendously happy.

On my return to London I picked up a copy of David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous. Back in the city, jumping through tubes and over road works, making angry phone calls to my internet company demanding to be reconnected, I began to recognise the disconnection from the sensuous non-human world that Abram writes of. I missed the snow, I missed the connection with the mountain.

And I wonder if I’m behaving like the bourgeois who experience their physical connection to the non-human in one short sharp burst only to return to their over-rich London lives for the rest of the year, craving snow for 5 months then heading to some seaside place to spend more of their mindlessly-made earnings. I hope not. I’ve lived in London for nearly 3 years now and I still miss my old home by the sea in Wales. But I love this city and its human surprises. In the meantime, until my next adventure, Hampstead Heath must be my reminder of our ‘contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.’

Finland from the air

Cycling on snow in Jyväskylä

March 30th, 2011

Pleated, becheckered and monochrome, it’s possible to see the managed pine and the white ground between trees, galvanised in the light. Palette lakes: smooth pulped and pressed flat. You can see the ripped, trimmed and scored woods, the growths left to bloom in rings like boreal fairy glens. Summer house are still submerged. From here it’s a stickle-backed land, seeming far more cottaged and tended than from the ground. You see the farm ponds and where black heated tarmac crosses the crispy white ski tracks.

The vanguard of sea ice hugs the far coast:  a barrage against liquid. The edges of the Baltic are still frozen – they hold a viscous edge that peels and retreats on warm days, crusts and extends on cold. In the  shallow seas around the coast snow furs over the islets that are hugged close and made part of the land only to be released into the sea again come spring. Some of the archipelagos are linked together by stringy bridges.

Over Turku the ice loosens.  There are beaches of snow in the bays, ringed islands that could almost be Greek with their white sands in bright blue. Over Sweden I watch the land start to brown, the lakes crack. There are long white scores cut out of the trees that stretch in very straight lines across miles of field, wood, frozen sea and island – presumably they are old imperial sledgeways?

Over Denmark the clouds come and I try to make out parts of the royal wedding magazine the Finnish woman next to me is reading: ‘Diana vs Kate’ – why are they so interested?

From the land of Finns to the land of Angles – we are both fished fine angles and filled lands, finished on an ask, an Ang, a Fin. The plane has taken me from winter back to spring. On the ground the foggy air smells warmly wet – long released from ice. The willows and thorns are leafing. I have gone from zero ice to liquid pools, the muds of the new year. We are quick to forget an English winter. But the Finnish winter I am fresh from will be harder to let go of. In the leech-grey wood one tree has come into green. As the train creeps into London the land warms another degree, and the sparse trees and track-side buddleia start to show it, begrudgingly.

Walking Diary – New Year’s Day, Edale

Winter Peaks

copyright Eleri Davies, 2009

Gritstone is my familiar, my birthcode. Grit has gone green over on the drystone walls, these ancient fences crossing the white fields. There is ice in the air, is it snowing or brushing off the hills?

Dry paths – water once in a tractor’s tracks are now frozen, deep and creaking. There is a sudden give and mud reclaims my boots. Air and water trapped under ice makes concentric circles like a metre long white blood cell or a cartoon eye. And there are two eyes looking up to the blue sky.

Where there is ‘no access’ the hills look maddeningly beautiful. Fewer footprints ahead. I do my own slippery dance. There are wind-hugging trees and there is frozen dogshit.

Three ramblers rising. Why keep us out? We are not exactly dangerous. But you don’t always remember that the land is all owned here, we are allowed to pass only by the grace of the landowners and the Peak National Park. So long have we been able to lovingly trail over the heathery Peaks, we have nearly forgotten our paths are hard-won and flimsy too – we only walk here because we have been given permission, not because of an ancient right.

Still, I don’t quite feel like a Kinder Trespasser, I just feel furtive, unnaturally cautious. But the air is full of glitter. Frozen fog? Particles of ice drifting like migrating insects.

A standing slab marks a lost significance, an interned soul? A measuring mile to Manchester? A older kind of marker for time and space – less intrusive than a road sign, more soul in it than a new year’s countdown. And yet the Peak National Park guides you sign by sign – ‘open country – please keep to the marked path, no roaming no dallying, no looking at the stones in the brook or scaling the empty fields to see the view.’ Quick – jump that fence!

There is a gentle melt under the ice of a little road-rivulet. Sluggishly pooling its way down the slope, marking its own trespass. The sun makes its wetted inroads into the ice, but not for long. The day will be short.

Kitted out in gaiters and alpine walking-sticks, two rambling snappers snap the scenes. I don’t think they look as hungover as me. They are fresher robots. In a flush of phone reception I receive four new year messages!

On Kinder, a stream’s tributary looks cosier than it must be – as if under a cotton coverlet. My boots stomp and crunch the frosty grass and old snow. Village kids tumble off the first train back from Sheffield. I return to my friends by the fire.