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Jan/Feb 2012

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Mary Davies contemplates winter weather

In the uplands, my friends have a fine new electricity pole in their side garden. The previous pole was something of an historical marker - its small attached plate inscribed 1953 recorded the date at which mains electricity first reached this relatively remote area, the same year that it came to my old cottage even further into the mountains. But the sixty-year-old pole was found to be rotten at the core and unlikely to withstand another year's winter weather: it had to be replaced.      

Disruption to the supply, with all its attendant discomforts, is not uncommon in the mountains. When I was at the cottage, it was a frequent consequence of thunderstorms, leaving for many hours only candles and the cheerful glow of a fire to brighten the rooms. To lose the supply on a working farm, though, is more than a mild inconvenience. And to have a pole shatter, with deep snow on the ground and little hope of replacement until the weather improved, might have made life difficult indeed.

My friends still treasure a family memoir written as a means of passing the tedious evenings, when in one harsh winter the farm was snowbound for weeks. This was decades before electricity arrived: in those days, oil lamps and roaring wood fires were all that provided winter comfort, and taking feed to animals in the snowy fields must have been an endless chore.

Last winter's snows left the present generation near snowbound for a while, but my friends were saved from the worst by modern machinery and modern means of communication. Their animals, too, were snugly housed as they are again this winter - it is a pleasure to visit the great sheepshed down the yard, its many pens filled with the farm's flock. The shed is welcoming with the soft smell of fleece and hay, its occupants secured against the chill winds outside. Last winter the worst problem was the water supply, with pipes frozen underground so that water had to be hauled from the house - a common problem in the uplands' freeze.

The garden, filled with hardy plants, can survive weeks of snow with little damage. The young witchhazel by the house, planted to commemorate a family birth, puts out its yellow twisted blooms despite the cold. The snowdrops along the drive bloom as thickly as ever. But last year the snow and ice meant that, confined to the city, I missed the chance to welcome these first signs of the start of the new year's abundant growth.

 

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