Jim Crumley takes you a wander through his winter wonderland with this short series of recalled adventures in the snow. Here he shares a poem he wrote in Glenmore forest.
I love first snow falling in woodland. It has a scent, a taste. Not in the way that coffee has a scent and a taste, but rather like the scent and taste of the purest, clearest, spring water you ever knew. A key turns, nature unlocks old familiar savours stored from the end of last winter when the process happened in reverse, and spring crept over the hill.
A few years ago I took part in a series of four television documentaries about Britain’s National Parks. Scotland was represented by the Cairngorms. I was asked to say something about the pinewoods and the producer had selected an area of old trees above Glenmore Lodge, now the Cairngorm Youth Hostel.
I was to be filmed walking among those trees and sitting writing with my back to one, a thing I have done in real life many, many times.
Filming that kind of documentary is one of life’s more ridiculous rituals. What would end up being a few minutes on screen took days to film. But there was one moment when something interesting happened.
They were filming the sitting-against-the-tree-writing sequence. I didn’t have to say anything, just sit and pretend to write. I was told I could scribble any old thing, because the camera would not be homing in on the page to see what I had written. Shame really, as it turned out.
It had snowed. The sun came out. There was a juniper bush a few yards in front of me. I started to watch it. You may think a small and scrubby juniper bush after snow makes for poor visuals. I watched. I lost track of what the crew were doing. The light was bothering them because the sun kept shining and hiding and messing things up.
I stared at the juniper. Its light coating of snow started to melt, became water again. But halfway between one and the other, the snowflakes collapsed gracefully into something like flowers, then metamorphosed into points of light – the whitest light you have ever seen in your life.
At this point, I turned the page of the notebook in my lap, the page where I had been scribbling meaninglessly for the benefit of the camera, and on a clean page I started to write with a purpose. My engagement with the juniper bush was total. It was as if nature had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Watch this!”
And over the next God-knows-how-long, this is what I wrote:
A half-hearted blossom
of autumn-into-winter snow
time-lapsed open on juniper stems
one long pinewood hour
while I, seated in the roots
of a tree so sure of its history
it remembers wolves,
did nothing at all
but wait for the pinewood
to speak. A new hour began
in the same old silence
after the snow stopped falling
and infant winter licked its finger
to test the new wind
while snared snow-flowers
shrank to diamonds of white light.
That was the pinewood’s message
for me, that was its gift,
that and the new knowledge
that pinewood hours take longer.
You can read more of Jim Crumley’s Scottish wildlife columns online here, and each month in The Scots Magazine.
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