Snow is bad for married life. I look out on the fields that surround this house and I see a magical landscape. Oak fence posts visible in the white distance are as evocative as makeshift crosses on the field of battle. Sheep and cows look like ancient and stoical creatures from the Bible. My youngest turkeys, a generation that has never seen snow, are like giddy children, hopping across the orchard, practising low flying and nose-dives. The chickens, middle-aged and disgruntled, refuse to leave the chicken house. The peacocks look down on the scene from treetops and barn roofs, all the better for keeping their lengthy new tails dry.
Another miracle: a brief visit from the sun has revealed the Viburnum bodnantense, a wall of stalwart twigs and pink blossom, a small act of defiance in this fortress of pure white. I was born into a world where snow was as rare as liberal thought and I never take it for granted. I feel only gratitude for the brief interlude when this small patch of the universe is perfect, every defect-peeling paint, chipped edges, dung heaps and rusty wheelbarrows-is disguised. My husband, born in North Wales in a room with an uninterrupted view of Snowdon, is not in love with the white stuff. Practical, conscientious, accountable, he sees snow with different eyes.
‘This is costing us £10,000 a week,’ he says. On Sunday, our vineyard restaurant had 52 bookings for lunch. Twelve turned up, including an intrepid family of four who arrived from Walsham le Willows on cross- country skis. Chefs and waiters outnumbered customers, but we aren’t the kind of business that sends staff home. Instead, we make pots of porridge and jugs of hot chocolate. I see the snow as a reprieve from the ordinary. My husband sees it as the sky falling down.
He denies this, of course. He says he finds snow dull, that he likes the colours and smells of winter and he worries about the birds. He also reminds me that the shop and restaurant are having the worst week we’ve ever had. He’s not happy that customers, snowdrops and aconites have been stopped in their tracks. Also on hold, monumental earthworks. After years of getting quotes and then rejecting the idea, last spring, we finally made the commitment to install a biomass heating system.
It costs a mind-boggling £180,000 to install-more than a tractor, but less than a combine-and that doesn’t include additional radiators, the boxing-in of pipes in the shop, making good holes in walls where old radiators have been removed or, more to the point, snow days when hired machinery is standing idle, parked next to the deep trenches that make Wyken look like a model village of Venice in the snow.
Nor does that stupefying sum include the barn that will house the wood chips to feed the boiler, harvested from our ancient woodlands that we coppice in rotation. I want the new barn, one of those metal structures advertised in the back of the Farmers Guardian, to be clad in wood painted a warm grey called Northern Tundra and the roof covered in reclaimed Suffolk pantiles. My husband insists all we need is a shelter that will keep the wood chips dry. ‘This is not a barn for string quartets,’ he mutters. ‘It’s for shielding us from the swings in the price of electricity and diesel.’
Snow lures me outside in a way that snowless winter does not. I love taking extra bales of hay to the animals, whose eyes say ‘Bless your heart, Mama’. Spreading clean straw on top of old straw in the field shelters makes me feel as if I have a walk-on part in Lambing Live. And when I come back home and sit beside the old Godin wood burner, my hands thawing out around a mug of rooibos tea, I know what T. S. Eliot meant when he wrote: ‘Winter kept us warm.’
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