Saturday, March 10, 2018

Ice and Snow

While Europe went through an unusually cold spell, I happened to be reading – coincidentally, not out of any desire to be in tune with the seasons – two books about ice and snow.

I had no special interest in the Ice Age until I started following Professor Jamie Woodward on Twitter, but soon I was sufficiently hooked to buy his short introduction to the subject. Before reading this book, I knew in a vague sort of way that once upon a time the world was more icy than it is today, but I've only now started to get my head around it. For example, over seven years ago, I posted about camping in a cirque (and was duly censured for failing to use the word cwm). If you asked me, I could have told you, from high-school geography lessons, that cirques – or cwms – were formed by glacial erosion. But think about what that means. There was a time, during the last ice age, when a glacier filled that valley. I feel like I always knew but did not know that, somehow. Perhaps I am not explaining myself very well.

Before that, I read Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow. It's classic Nordic noir, but also a kind of Moby Dick of snow and ice. While Høeg never quite reaches Melvillean levels of digression – that chapter about rope! – or, for that matter, profundity, we do get meditations on glacial morphology, footprints in the snow, and the structure and properties of ice.

But what initially drew me to the book when I picked it up at the library is that it began with a map, and it was of a city I am now familiar with. The story begins in Copenhagen.
It is freezing, an extraordinary −18°C, and it's snowing, and in the language that is no longer mine, the snow is qanik – big, almost weightless crystals falling in stacks and covering the ground with a layer of pulverized white frost.
There is ice in the harbour, firm enough to walk on, at least for those who have "a good relationship with ice".

Some months ago, when Anasua moved to Copenhagen, I asked a Danish friend if the lakes freeze in winter. "It does happen," she said, "but I've only seen it three or four times in my life. So don't get your hopes up."

Sure enough, this year, the lakes froze over. And I can report that as of yesterday, there is ice in the harbour.

I consider myself lucky to have lived in cities where it snows. Going to a snowy place on holiday is not quite the same; to see the familiar transformed by snow can be quite an experience. Here is our balcony garden in London: in summer, and last week.


Tom239 said...

As a kid I had the feeling (normal for small children?) that my surroundings had no history. It was as if our house and the land it sat on had been there since the beginning of time. It still seems weird to me that was the island we lived on was deposited by glaciers around 21,000 years ago, not long at all as geological time goes.

Sroyon said...

I grew up on alluvial soil deposited by the Ganges. We learnt about both fluvial and glacial processes in school, but evidence of the former was all around us.