It’s snowing outside. It wasn’t falling when I woke up, but there is light feathery confetti coming down now. I feel relieved. Like a child who has been told too early about Christmas and then keeps asking when Santa is coming, I felt we were told too early about the snow and the time delay left me in a limbo of doubt. Yesterday I woke and excitedly opened the curtains: nothing. It came during the day, though, and, henceforth, is to firmly establish itself. This morning there is a moderate blanket of snow when I look out onto my backgreen. It’s more like a candlewick bedspread, as opposed to the thicker duvet that is predicted to develop later in the week. Cold we can manage in these parts, we are used to it. Edinburgh is a cold city. The wind trips and snatches and bites at you on the hills, intersections and wide-open streets. But this burst of slicing wind that has come with the snow is as beastly as I remember for some time.
Named, in the Scottish vernacular, ‘the beast fae the east,’ it is living up to its given title. I walked home in the dark from the centre of town last night, thinking about my Canadian relatives and how they would laugh at the dramatic performance we are making of it. My husband used to tell me tales of it being so cold there that his teeth and gums would hurt if he stayed outside too long. I checked my teeth on George IV Bridge – up on the height with the Cowgate down below and the freezing wind whipping from all directions. My teeth were fine. I gathered my hood in under my chin to cover as much of my face as I could. It made it hard to see either cars or people, but there were few abroad last night, so it didn’t matter. As I turned down the Royal Mile the usual tall, booted man with a long black cape (bearing a new feature of snowy epaulets) and a highwayman hat was standing at the meeting point outside St. Giles’s Cathedral. On this night there were no takers for his 8.30pm ghost tour.
Coming down the Canongate it felt otherworldly, eerily quiet, this is where the ghosts were gathered. The snow helped to dampen what little noise there was in the deserted streets. It was a sticky snow, resting where it fell, picking out details of the urban landscape that I usually walk past, failing to notice: stonework, uneven cobblestones, weighted down ivy, the neat slate work on Mary Queen of Scots’ folly on the Abbeyhill edge of Holyrood. I thought about James Joyce’s celebrated description of falling snow in the final passage of his short story, ‘The Dead’, and I felt an urgent need to re-read it. “It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” (abridged)
Things are not permanent, not matter how much we try to make them so. Things are fluid, open and changing and there is nothing quite like a dramatic change in the weather to remind us of this and to give us Joycean pause to reflect. If you are taking advantage of this ‘snow day’ to get into the garden (with or without children) to build a snowman, or to crunch through the Meadows, or to take a sled to that gentle slope on Bruntsfield Links, may you have a lovely time. The alternative, whilst the blanket thickens outside, is to hole up and pull the blankets closer around you and look out onto the wonder of it all.