Age of Ice

Frosty birches
Frosty birches

Perhaps another ice age is on its way.

The sea in the harbour is frozen over in large patches, breaking the otherwise perfect reflection of the village, the surface scarcely disturbed, even by the river as it exits below the stone bridge. There is not a breath of wind; the air itself seems to be made of ice. The sky is plain blue. Not a tropical blue or even a Scottish summer blue but a pale, powdery, pastel shade tinged pink at the horizon, as if the sun has too little time during its brief, mid-winter appeareance to bother completing the picture. It’s been up a couple of hours, it’ll be setting again soon. The pink is the crumpled sheet of its unmade bed, tossed aside just long enough for it to get up and make some coffee, and to smile at the few of us who have ventured out to see it.

There has been a lone diver in the bay for the last few days, competing with the heron family – hatched in spring, now all grown up but still hanging out together – and the resident otter for its breakfast. Not for the first time, I watch it and shiver, wondering if sea creatures really notice the changes in temperature the way we do on land.
Some crazy local women have formed a cold-water wild-swimming group and they meet several times a week for an early morning dip. They have tried to persuade me to join them. While I love the idea of swimming in the sea, my vision doesn’t include icebergs. No body coverings allowed, but I can keep a woolly hat on, they assure me! Even with half the blubber of a seal, I decline.

This time last year, I was sitting in a beach bar listening to my friend Susil making a joke about a virus in China and Mexican beer. I had little idea what he was talking about and I’m not convinced he had, either. It wasn’t coming for us. We wiggled our toes in the sand.
My toes try to wiggle in my walking boots but there isn’t much room with two pairs of socks. There is beauty, though, in the silent stillness of everything. This is a harder frost than I’ve known for years; ice stiffens every branch, every blade and leaf and forms giant, spiky crystals on the snow-covered grass in the centre of the track and on the stone walls, it look like fur. A golden sunlight bathes the birch trunks a warm orange, but isn’t strong enough to melt the ice on their twisted branches. It makes me want to paint it: I love the way the sugary whiteness clings to every curve and crevice, emphasizing the shapes.

I am learning to appreciate this frozen, desolate state which has befallen the landscape I love. I understand that it’s a natural part of its cycle, a necessary part, even if it isn’t usually necessary for me to witness it. Yet we are where we are, and here we will be for some time to come; finding beauty and joy wherever I can, and discovering they are usually not very far away, has been one of the more meaningful and life-affirming challenges of this past year.

Happy new year everyone, and may all changes be positive ones.