Could there possibly be snow in the wood? As we drive, we begin to see ice replace the standing water in the fields. The edge of the road starts to look like it’s been hailed on, then gradually the frozen slush turns to ribbons of real snow. We very rarely get snow near us because of the warming influence of the estuary, but as we go on there is the dawning realisation that we really only just missed the snow at home yesterday. The far hills are white; as we travel, the snow’s boundary moves down the lower slopes, tantalisingly close.
Driving the last lane, it is clear the wood will contain more snow than we’ve ever seen there. Children’s excitement mounts in the back of the van as I wonder if our tyres will grip on the track. I hop out at the gate; though I close the door behind me, the children’s happy shrieks spill into the silence. I lift the latch, swing open the gate and walk into a winter wonderland.
Though the track is clear of snow, every branch, every twig that dips to greet me, every ripple of bark is layered with snow. Water droplets, frozen mid-drip, hang beneath the twigs, and the white reflects sunlight through each tiny glass bead, making the wood flash and sparkle. There is a smell of damp fallen leaves and the fresh cold hitting my face moves into my body as I breathe.
A flurry of children, crunching van tyres. With windows open, we drive up the track beneath white arches. I leave Mark being used as a snowball target, disappear up to camp before it becomes filled with foot prints, noise, wet mittens and games. I am filled with the days impermanence, with a need to see things before they change; it’s intensified by the constant dripping that has started around me as frozen droplets plummet to the floor – the glue holding them to the twigs is beginning to melt. There’s an occasional puff of powder in the air as a snow-pile slips from an outstretched branch.
I stand still, staring around me. The architecture of each tree is picked out in white, even trunks in the far distance are distinct – I feel I can see further than usual. The wood’s character is transformed, open, bright; I see it with new eyes.
The woodland floor is not covered by a blanket of snow, rather a light dust sheet draped over the top of moss and bramble, fallen leaf and twig. Dead grass stalks poke through and melt water from the branches has punched a myriad holes into the white surface. Patter, patter, patter; the noise is insistent, counselling me to remember the snow is melting, melting, melting… I feel the urgency, a desire to see all of the wood in its new attire. Underfoot, frozen leaves crunch, but the snow gives no sound as I tread on it. Nook and outcrop, tree and clearing, all are altered. I see shapes and symmetries I’d not been aware of before. I take it all in, arriving late back to the family. But they haven’t noticed, have amassed an enormous ammunition pile of outsized snowballs, ingeniously moulded in round ended storage containers. We have snowmen too – small, but fun – one skiing, one with hazel nuts for buttons and acorn cups for eyes.
The sun is dropping now, burning orange through the trees. The dripping has stopped, droplets frozen again, refracting the sunset. The melt is suspended for a while, the winter snow will be in the wood for another day at least. We leave behind our two snowmen when we go. They silently watch the campfire, sentinels in the dark. What will they witness, what creatures will appear when we are gone? We’ll never know; these little men will melt with the winter snow, along with their secrets. They, and this winter wonderland, will be a mere memory, but a family memory that each one of us here will share, tucked away inside – the memory of the day that it snowed in the wood.