Winter – 2

Nature dies down in winter. Certainly, at those latitudes where the days become much shorter and the temperatures plummet. Both wind and rain seem to become more frequent. Snow. It is a period of rest and renewal after autumn has put on a final glorious display of colour. Animals adapt to this in one of three ways: some will eat and eat of the autumn bounty of, especially, fruit, putting on large fat reserves and surviving the winter in a state of hibernation, their heart-rates dropping to a scarcely believable one or two beats a minute, their bodies slowly using these fat reserves for the little energy required to maintain a flickering life through those months. Some migrate, seeking a warmer climate until spring returns. These animals are, due to the obvious logistics required to travel hundreds of miles to reach those more hospitable climes, the larger animals and many of the birds. Travel over those kinds of distances would be out of the question for the smaller ones. Others stay put and, in the case of the plant eaters, scratch out a meagre living on whatever leaves and grasses survive through the winter. The carnivores, of course, stay and try to catch them.

Our Neolithic ancestors’ life cycles would be attuned to this pattern too. Autumn must have been lived fast and furiously. In the same way our medieval ancestors worked long hours to bring in the harvests, Neolithic man and woman must have used all the dwindling daylight to bring in as much food and fuel and dry bedding as possible before the winter period. Then by the end of autumn gathering would have largely ceased and they would have moved into a winter rhythm of life.

But how did they get through winter? What of the food they had gathered? Presumably, they had no way of storing fruit – could any of it be dried? Was it fermented for drink? Or was it all eaten as soon as it was gathered, as though they were all so many dormice seeking to build up their reserves? And could this, in fact, have been a part of their strategy to get through those months? To eat and eat until the perishable foods were all gone, and then to stop all but the most essential activities. To expend as little energy as possible and stay as warm as they could. Spending as much time as possible asleep.

And yet, they would still need to eat, and so with dwindling food reserves they would slaughter any beasts kept for that purpose, possibly smoking the meat to enable it to keep for as long as possible. Hunting would continue and might, in some ways, become a little easier. With less vegetation around, there would be less cover for their prey, and in snow there would be clear tracks to follow. But presumably this prey would still need to be pursued, and this would use precious energy, unless they relied more upon pits and snares.

Winter – 1

The long-range weather forecast is predicting generally mild, wet weather in the run-up to Christmas. So still no sign of ‘winter’ yet.

Although there is a lot to be said for mild weather, we need the cold of winter to help to break up the soil for the following year and kill off many pests. But our climate is changing.

There are some swallows still around, apparently. Presumably because there are still plenty of insects for them to eat. They should have left ages ago. What does this mean for them in the coming months? If the weather remains mild and the insects persist, will they be able to survive the winter here? And will they still be able to successfully migrate if the expected colder weather kills off these insects, or will they have left it too late? I suspect it will not end well for them.

There have always been a few of these days at the turn of the seasons, although probably nowhere near as many as now, and I wonder how our ancestors would deal with these days; the days I am sometimes tempted to call the Nothing Days. Those days which are grey and cold, but not severely so. The leaves are continuing to fall but seem in no hurry to complete the job. Nothing seems to be contributing to the change of the seasons. If any plants or animals are responding to anything, it can only be to the shortening of the daylight hours. There are still plenty of nuts and berries for the wildlife to forage – the birds are largely ignoring our bird feeders at the moment – although little for the human forager; the blackberries have finished, the chestnuts and hazelnuts all gone.

I suspect our ancestors would have moved into their own winter routines anyway, and got on with the jobs in hand, largely mending and making. With the onset of rains and wind and snow, rooves and walls would be repaired and strengthened, leaks caulked, trenches dug out to drain water away from dwellings. Tools and weapons would be fashioned and repaired. Measures taken for comfort and warmth – perhaps grasses and rushes and bracken collected and heaped up inside, likewise firewood, and fodder for animals.

Although I’m only guessing, but a fire in the middle of a hut filled with heaps of dried grasses might have required a Neolithic risk assessment following a visit by a fire and safety officer.

R. I. P. Winter

It’s beginning to feel both as though autumn has been with us forever, and that it is especially reluctant to leave us, this year.

This year has been a mast year; the trees and bushes have been laden with prodigious quantities of nuts and berries. The hawthorns, especially, seem to be weighed down with berries, and we have gathered large quantities of nuts from the hazel in our garden. There are so many acorns beneath the oaks nearby that there is a thick, continuous, crunchy, carpet of them underfoot. Traditionally, this has been said to indicate a harsh winter ahead, although how the trees and bushes are meant to work this out when we have no idea what the weather will be then, heaven only knows.

What it really indicates, of course, is that the climatic conditions have been such throughout the year that these trees and bushes have successfully produced their large crops. Nothing to do with what will come along later.

On the other hand, the leaves have held onto their greens for longer than usual and only turned late, and still seem most reluctant to fall. It has taken the determined efforts of a few strong winds just to remove about half of them. Certainly, around my part of Britain, anyway.

It is not cold. There are no signs of a proper winter chill approaching, with the long-range weather forecast contenting itself with predictions of the occasional cold spell in the next month, which takes us through to mid-December. In the garden the grass and many of our other plants are still engaged in that crazy autumn growth spurt.

Of course, it was never unusual for November to be wet and mild, and we may yet have a biting cold winter, although I wouldn’t bet on it. It is a long, long time since we have had a winter like that in these parts. In my lifetime, only the winters of 1963 and 1978/79 really stand out as being extremely harsh, although a few others have had shorter periods of cold and snow. The expectation for winter around here now is that it will just be chilly and wet. I think only once in the last six or seven years have we had more than just the odd flurry of snow; that was from the so-called ‘Beast from the East’ a couple of years ago, and even that only lasted a few days.

We seem to have lost winter somewhere along the way, which sounds very careless of us.

In fact, that is quite a good way of describing it.

You don’t need me to tell you we have been careless in the way we have interacted with nature, the result being our world is heating up dangerously. And in our part of the world, this has led to hotter, drier, summers and milder, wetter, winters. There has been a notable increase in destructive flooding events. Downpours are frequently very heavy and long-lasting. Rather than being spread out through the month, we may get an entire month’s worth of rain in less than a day. Summers, conversely, have become very dry.

This is absolutely nothing to the extreme climate conditions suffered by millions of others in other parts of the world, but it helps to bring it home to us that the Climate Emergency is real, and it is happening. With everything else happening in the world at the moment, this seems to have been conveniently ignored by the mainstream media for the last six months.

R. I. P. Winter.

The Christmas Post

For my Christmas Post this year I’m going to do the environmentally correct thing and recycle a post from a four years ago.

The First Christmas Present

The old fellow with the white beard and the red jacket leaned queasily over the side of the sleigh, watching the snow-covered fields passing below. For a while, the moon was peering out between the clouds and he travelled over a scene of sparkling silver, although the sight did nothing to cheer him up.

He hated heights.

He hated elves, now, too. He’d never met one before today, but he knew now that he hated them. The smug little tossers sat right at the back of the sleigh, eating the mince pies that had been left out for him, and tittering whenever he took a wrong turning.

And he hated children. He especially hated children.

Ever since they took away his benefits and told him he would now be better off, he had struggled for money. Now it was November, and he had decided he had to get a Christmas job. Not that he was looking forward to long nights at the sorting office, or lugging a bloody great bag of Christmas cards from door to door. But it seemed he’d left it rather late, and there was nothing left. At least, nothing for someone of his age. Eventually, he found himself in a tiny little room on the second floor of a run-down office building in a backstreet, the home of an agency that he’d never heard of and with a staff, it appeared, consisting of one gentleman who he initially took to be a caretaker and who introduced himself as Mr Nicol.

‘You’ll do nicely,’ he said. With time-shift, it meant that there was no need to cram all the deliveries into a single night; they could be spread out over the whole year. In fact, they tended to use two of them, these days.

‘Two of what?’ His mind reeled.

‘Why, Santas, of course. But even then,’ Mr Nicol went on, ‘it’s difficult when one goes sick for two weeks. And so this is where you come in. What is a problem,’ he explained, ‘is E.U. Working Time Directive number seven. This rules out night work for anyone over the age of fifty. So you’ll have to do the deliveries during the day. Still, time-shift takes care of that.’

He still didn’t entirely understand, but he took the job.

The SatNav was crap. It took twice as long. The first time he tried it, he was terrified to find the sleigh suddenly hurtling between buildings that seemed to be no more than a couple of feet apart, at what must have been close on three hundred miles an hour. It then banked and turned in a tiny back garden, subjecting him to a force of about a hundred g, and then shot back down the same terrible alleyway. It then parked itself on the rooftop next to the one that he had just left.

The elves tittered into their hands.

He quickly found it better to just leave it to the reindeer to sort out. They obviously knew what they were doing.

And then it was impossible to tell how much time had gone past. If he noticed the time in any of the houses they visited, it never made any sense. One clock said ten fifteen. Some while later, he noticed one that said nine forty two. The next said four thirty. For a while, be began to check the time at each house, but quickly gave up when the times appeared to be completely random. He shrugged. More of this time-shift stuff, he supposed. It made it very hard to decide when he should be on lunch break, and he made a mental note to speak to a union rep. at some point.

Another house. Impossible to know how many he had visited. After the thing with the clocks, he was even wondering whether he still had to visit some of the ones he’d already visited.

No, that was too confusing. He shrugged again, and stepped out of the sleigh. The elves followed him with their sacks, and then they all stepped forward, and next thing they were standing in a hallway, just inside the closed front door. Yes, that was weird, too. The elves obviously knew where they were going; he followed them into a darkened front room where a little glass of liquid stood on the table beside a plate with two mince pies. There was a little note that said ‘For Santa, love Benjy’.

He dropped the mince pies into the bag that he wore around his waist for the purpose, and poured the sherry into the flask. He hated sherry, anyway, so the little tossers were welcome to that. With luck, they’d fall out of the sleigh at some point.

The elves trooped noisily out of the room and up the stairs, reached the landing and opened the first door on the right. Inside, a child was asleep in the bed, a large pillow case draped across the duvet.

‘Greedy little bastard,’ he thought. He picked up the pillow case and held it open, while one of the elves seemingly poured in presents randomly from his sack. And then he froze. There was someone coming up the stairs; that wasn’t supposed to happen! All this time-shift stuff was meant to mean that everyone would be asleep from the moment he entered the house until he left again. It all happened in less than a fraction of a nanosecond, in any case.

The footsteps came nearer, and then stopped. A small child appeared at the doorway, but all that he noticed were her sad eyes. She did not seem surprised to see him, nor did she appear overjoyed.

‘You never come to me,’ she said in a quiet, flat voice.

‘I visit all the children!’ he replied, struggling to sound jovial.

‘No. You never come to me. You never have.’ He felt himself squirming under her steady gaze.

‘What’s your name?’ he said at last.

‘Mary. I live with my mother. In one of those flats over there.’ She pointed out of the window towards a few yellow lights that seemed to randomly puncture the darkness.

He glanced at the elves, who shrugged unconcernedly, then sighed and pulled a list from his back pocket and put his reading glasses on.

‘I’m sure we, I mean I, do. What’s the address?’ She stepped towards him and gently took the list from his hand, looked at it for a minute and then pointed.

‘There. But you don’t go to our flat; number three.’

He ran his eyes down the list, clicked his tongue irritably, and then looked a second time, certain he must have missed her name. But no, it definitely wasn’t there. He looked up, to meet her gaze again. Oh, hell. He could take one present from, say, three or four others. They would never miss them, and no one would know.

‘We’d know!’ The first elf glowered at him.

‘You can’t do that!’ the other one pouted. He looked from one to the other, and then back to the little girl, and came to a decision. He reached into Benjy’s pillowcase, picked out a couple of presents and held them out to her. She did not move for a moment, but then she gently smiled, reached out, and took the nearest one. Then she turned and left the room, and he heard her footsteps going down the stairs. He darted out to the landing, but already she had vanished.

‘You’ll be in big trouble,’ a spiteful little voice behind him said happily. He said nothing but did the thing with his fingers he had been taught, and they were back in the sleigh again.

It had been their last call. Now he was watching the elves smirking and whispering to each other, as the reindeer ran smoothly through the clouds. Casually, his hand strayed towards the SatNav, and he pressed the ‘over-ride’ button. The sleigh stopped immediately, and spun round a hundred and eighty degrees, catching the elves completely by surprise and throwing them out of the sleigh and into the night sky.

He hated elves.

Sketch n’ Haiku Day

We’ve had all sorts in the last week.

We’ve had cold, bright, sunny days. We’ve had cold snowy sleety days. And today we have lashing rain and wind. It’s milder than it was, but as miserable as sin and the wind still cuts through you!

So here is a sketch for the day – cushions on the sofa to remind me of Nepal, since the top one came from there:

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And here is a haiku for the day, to remind me of summer:

Amidst the traffic,

In the still airs above me,

A lark dripping down.

And a thought for the day? Another haiku, to remind me to slow down sometimes:

Obsession with time

Is climbing trees in autumn

To get down the leaves.

And today I begin the first edit for A Good Place – initially reading it through and thinking about the voice, the narration, to see if it works for me. Next, another read to look for flaws in the plot, redundancies, things to add and take out. Finally, try to knock the grammar into shape. If I’m happy with that, then it’s on to the beta readers.

Hope you all have a good day.

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal – 3

At Manang, we pitched our tents on the flat roofs of the buildings…

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…essentially, it is the only flat area in the village that doesn’t either have someone living on it or crops growing on it.

 

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A Buddhist temple in Manang. We took care to visit the priest and receive his blessing for the crossing of the pass in a few days time. The high pass- Thorung La – is at 5416m and  is the highest pass in the world, and who knows what the weather and fate might decide to throw at us.

 

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A view of Annapurna I (I think!) from Manang. Annapurna I is the tenth highest mountain in the world, but also one of the most dangerous. The reason for my uncertainty is that the route of the trek takes us around some twenty or so peaks, including Annapurnas I – IV, Gangapurna, Tara Kang and Khangsar Kang, all of which can be seen from the Manang part of the trail.

 

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Nomadic herders’ camp above Ledar, at about 4300m. Theirs is not an easy life.

 

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Bridge across the Khone Khola, near where we camped before crossing the pass. The bridge is covered to protect it from snowfall.

 

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The porters at Thorung Phedi, where we camped before crossing the pass.

 

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A couple of hours later…

 

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We were snowed in the next day (and you can get very bored stuck in a tent for a day), but the following day we set off at dawn to cross the pass (Note the small figures passing the first rock).

 

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Some of the rocky, icy, snowy, lumpy bits beside us as we crossed the pass.

 

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After several hours hard slog through the snow, and the pass crossed, we began descending the western side down towards the village of Muktinath.

The Beastie From The Eastie

Yes, we’ve had some snow.

And oddly, despite this being the UK, lots of things are still working.

Although, to glance at the newspapers you could be forgiven for thinking the End Of The World was here.

But the sun was out this morning, so I wandered out for a bit of a bimble in the countryside.

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Fresh snow always feels magical.

I suppose this is because it is a pure white, because it sparkles in the sun and even in the night time it appears to glow.

It covers things up, but sits lightly upon them.

There is a purity to fresh snow that causes the landscape to feel cleaner and purer, too.

While the snow is falling, sound seems to be muffled and absorbed, so that one exists in a silent wonderland.

Shadows

It transforms a dull winter landscape into something bright and very special.

some paths are still clear

Some of the paths are still easy to find,

Some paths are less obvious

While others have become less obvious.

tracks

The animals have their own paths, that we are often unable to tread.

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But there is a silence over everything, and every now and again a breath of wind sends a thousand sparkling snow diamonds drifting down through the branches of the trees.

some things are hidden

The snow hides much…

Footprints

But it reveals where we have been.

Some shapes become more mysterious

And it makes some shapes more mysterious.

A Nice Surprise

This was a nice surprise.

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Sunny Interval, Edale, Derbyshire, England

I’m sure some of you have noticed that I have some photos for sale on Picfair.

They recently announced a competition on Facebook for photos in the category ‘Best of England’, so I submitted one of mine. This morning I noticed I had been placed in the top ten, so Yay for that!

I also sold a copy yesterday, which I guess was on the strength of that.

If you would care to mosey over to have a look at all the winners, the link is Here

My photo is of the Edale Valley, in the Peak District.

 

Ladakh (2)

Long ago in the misty depths of time – that’s last year, actually, I posted a piece about Ladakh (you can find it here if you’d like to read it.)

This, then, is another mixture of photographs and entries from my journal of my 2005 trip to India, which included a couple of weeks spent in Ladakh. I went comparatively early in the year, when the nights are still extremely cold and very few visitors have made their way up from the plains.

 Just the way I like it!

Ladakh is high. If you fly in from Delhi (the only way to enter Ladakh for 8 months of the year), you travel from around sea level to 3500m in no time at all. Ladakh means ‘The Land of High Passes’, and is aptly named. Leh, the capital, at 3500m, is one of the lower areas of Ladakh. It’s all uphill from there. Winters are incredibly harsh and the summer growing season brief, yet the Ladakhis traditionally are self-sufficient in everything they need – food, clothing and shelter – and have only recently collided with the western consumer society. In contrast with most of the rest of India, the religion and culture of the majority of the people there is Tibetan Buddhism.

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The Roof of the World – View across the Indus valley at 3500m, Thikse, Ladakh.

 Friday 8th April 2005

I’m in Ladakh and, hey, wow!

At the airport for 4.30am, to find the flight postponed until 8am, due to weather conditions. It all looked ominous, but just after 7am we were told to check in and after numerous baggage checks, body checks, baggage identifications, etc, we were away at 8.30.

I’ve heard the flight described as one of the most spectacular in the world. I’ve also heard it described as jaw-dropping. I can imagine that it could be bowel-dropping. As we approached the Himalaya, clouds steadily built up and we flew through with tantalising glimpses of great snow-covered ranges below, through the occasional gaps in the cloud. After a while the turbulence built up and we were buffeted quite considerably. Then as we began to near Leh, we slowly lost height, the turbulence increased and we got more views of peaks at under-carriage height. Once we had dropped out of the clouds and the whole valley lay spread into the distance surrounded by snow-swept mountains, it was indeed jaw-dropping.

Then into land after three slow circles around the airstrip. The outside temperature was 2C, we were told, but it certainly didn’t seem that cold.

Once we’d gone through the formalities of registration and baggage reclaim with the refreshingly friendly ground staff, I walked out into the front of the airport and found a taxi. Yousef charged me RS 100/- to go to my choice of guesthouse (The Ti-Sei) and left me his mobile number. He also gave me all the usual (sensible) advice about taking it easy for a day or so.

I’m now sitting in a splendid light and airy room, looking out across the vegetable garden (covered in this morning’s snowstorm) to lines of bare poplars, traditional houses and some splendid mountains, also covered in snow.

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Cairn at top of mountain north of Leh.

After a Ladakhi lunch of apricots, apple juice and water, headed north past the Shanti Stupa towards the first line of hills. Reached there at 1.15pm and stopped there for a breather. Silence. Apart from the pounding of the blood in my head. Absolute silence. After a few minutes the call of the muezzin drifts up from Leh, from the Jama Masjid. Then a few bird calls from the crags. Perfect peace. A perfect desert landscape, with pockets of snow. I’m sitting on a boulder, warmed by the sun, my feet in patches of fresh snow.

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Gompa just below Leh Palace, Leh, ladakh.

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Man spinning prayer wheel, Leh. To Ladakhis, their religion is not somehow separate from their daily life, but an essential part of it.

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Leh Palace. Very similar to the Potala in Lhasa, although smaller, this was the home of Ladakh’s royal family from the 17th century, when it was built, until the mid 19th century when they moved to the palace at Stok, on the other side of the Indus Valley, as a result of an invasion by Kashmiri forces.

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Gateway to Gompa at Leh Palace.

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Old buildings on the outskirts of Leh, ladakh. Traditional Ladakhi buildings closely resemble those of Tibet. In fact, there are so many similarities between the two areas, that Ladakh is often referred to as ‘Little Tibet’.

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Temple Door at the Monastery at Thikse, Ladakh.


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Statue of Maitreya, the Future Buddha, at Thikse Gompa. This statue, 2 stories high (15 metres) in it’s own temple was completed in 1981.

Trapped!

It’s snowing here, and I fear we are completely cut off from civilisation.

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Well, this is the UK; we don’t exaggerate a great deal, but our experience of bad weather, especially here in our little corner of the country, is not quite as extreme as in some other places, so cut us some slack, will you?

Now, if it was raining hard, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Or eyelids…there could be a grammatical issue here, but I’m not going to pursue it right now. This is the UK, so we do rain. We may not get a monsoon, but, hell, we get more than enough of the stuff. We get floods and high tides and days and days of it pouring out of leaden skies onto us. We get so much of it that if we ever get a period of more than a week without rain, we officially declare it a drought and order everyone not to use hosepipes and make it compulsory to take baths with a friend, and ration it so severely that all we have to drink is beer.

Actually, we should declare a drought most weeks, I reckon.

But back to the present. I had been planning to walk to the nearest large supermarket to do our regular shop for large items, but now this doesn’t look nearly so attractive. And, quite frankly, nor does the thought of the return trip with a rucksack full of catfood and soya milk and other heavy bulkies.

And what is worse, we are running low on essential supplies; eggs, bread, beer…you know, essentials.

Of course, we can get some of these round the corner at the little shops in our own little high street, but because of the severe arctic conditions prevailing outside, we have been reduced to glowering at each other and using psychological warfare;

‘I thought you wanted a newspaper.’

‘I do. I thought you might go and get it.’

‘I’ve got a blog post to write and, anyway, I’m not worried whether we get a newspaper or not.’

‘We’ve got no eggs. Don’t you want an omelette this morning?’

‘I’ve had cereal.’

‘You always have an omelette on Saturdays.’

‘Not always. We need milk soon, too. I only put a splash in my tea, you use much more than me.’

‘Grrr’

‘Snarl’

But you can get everything delivered, now. Perhaps we could get our eggs delivered by Amazon drone, since this is the coming thing. And Amazon sell everything in the world now, or will do soon.

‘That doesn’t sound a good idea,’ says my wife (we’re talking again, although we still haven’t gone to the shops) ‘perhaps they will just put a chicken on the drone, instead, and when it reaches the customer’s house the drone could automatically give it a hormone injection to stimulate egg laying, then return to base afterwards.’

Of course, the calculations would be quite complicated; they would have to take into account the weight and body mass of the chicken, the number of eggs required…heaven knows what else. But I like the idea of parachuting in emergency chickens.

I’m a little worried about the larger items, though. Crates of wine or sacks of rice might pose an altogether different and somewhat stiffer test. How big are the drones? It’s all very well in theory, but none of want drones the size of a 747 landing in our streets with a new refrigerator and a week’s worth of potatoes for the neighbours.

Oh, it’s stopped snowing, now.