There is undeniable magic about the first snow, especially in mid-February and in a climate where it is almost bound to be the last. Where I live now, it is so rare when the snow does not melt immediately. A week of freezing temperatures ensured that the magic stayed for days. The garden looked stunningly beautiful. I made the kids play outside in the street, so it stayed pristine and dreamlike for just a little longer.
There is a powerful sense of a special occasion, of it being a watershed and a threshold. More than the arbitrary new year on our civil calendar, it heralds a possibility of a fresh start, of muffling out the noise, of leaving behind, of cleansing, emerging pure and beginning again.
The snow coincided with the Chinese New Year and the first moon of the new lunar cycle. The Orthodox Church observes Candlemas on February 15 – one of the most important feasts in the Christian year. It celebrates the story of Mary entering the Temple for the first time since giving birth, to be cleansed and to present her newborn son to God. In the Temple, they meet a devout elder Simeon who holds Jesus up and calls him the Light of the World. Simeon waited for this moment all his (very, very) long life; he is ready to be released. “Let me now depart in peace, o Lord, for my eyes have seen your salvation”. It is a celebration of the mystical encounter of the Old and New, of purification and release. This year, the snow feels particularly full of symbolism.
I find it difficult to face spring without a white watershed like that. I am bothered by mild, uneventful, warm winters, the blurring of seasons. Last year we had our first and only (short and light) frost in mid-April. That felt wrong. During the decade that I have lived on the Dutch coast, I watched daffodils appear earlier and earlier in public spaces around town. This year, I saw my first one on the Orthodox Christmas day, January 7th, and I had to look away. It felt very wrong indeed, unnatural even for this climate. It is far too early to enjoy this sunshine yellowness. There has been no pause, no possibility for a break, no holding of breath. As our eyes need to rest on muted browns and grays, and on white, to prepare for the colour riot of the season to come, so our spirit needs to experience winter inertia before the force and exertions of spring. The snow and the freezing temperatures feel right to my Slavic soul.
As I look out from my window into the frozen, buried garden, I only see the magic for now. I do not (yet) think of the plants that will not survive this onslaught. I grow few tender plants, and most had been moved to the shed the day before temperatures plunged. Still, minus 10 for this long may be too much even for the ones labeled hardy. I should be particularly worried about fuchsia Lady Boothby, a vigorous and prolific climber, that was too large to move, and I should pray for my young acers, but for the moment I just hold my breath in awe.
We were unable to reach the allotment and check the damage to the garden and the pipes there. The roads had not been cleared and it was too dangerous to drive or cycle. The “wait it out” attitude, which permeates all spheres of our life here, ensured that for a few days we were properly grounded, something not even the lockdowns could quite achieve.
Inevitably, we will go from minus 10 to plus 10 within a week. We will have to deal with terrible slush in the coming days, but it has been absolutely worth it, for “my eyes have seen” – the snow.
Simeon celebrated Christ’s arrival and rejoiced at the final release from his waiting. We can now let the old year die at last, too. Fresh energy and new hopes are on their way.