Sunday, February 3, 2008

Cold Comfort

When we were growing up we had a picture-book version of James Herriot’s story Moses the Kitten. Though it was a delightful story, the thing that made the biggest impression on my young mind was the rather grim line:

I had driven about ten miles from home, thinking all the time that the Dales always looked their coldest, not when they were covered with snow, but as now, when the first sprinkling streaked the bare flanks of the fells in bars of black and white like the ribs of a crouching beast.

For some reason I have never since been able to look at the hills north of town without recalling that comparison. Above you can see them as they looked last week—ribs and all.

We are currently in a “winter storm warning." We woke up to the heaviest and most delightful rain that has blessed these parts in quite some time. I attempted a bit of a jog early in the afternoon and got an eyeful of the black of trees, the grey of rocks and the white of the hills. (At one point, I also got an earful of sleet--very unpoetic, not to mention uncomfortable.) I must have been in a literary mood this week because when I passed a great flock of sparrows huddled together on the telephone wires singing away like mad, I felt a reminder of something tugging at my brain. After a hot shower at home, I found this in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

“. . .with many birds bleakly on the bare twigs sitting
that piteously piped there for pain of the cold.”

(translation by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Nothing about telephone wires, but it does capture the feeling of that rather forced cacaphony in the sleet.

No comments: