And it happened. On the first day of a new year, which many were looking forward to because it signalled the end of 2020 (cue black comedy moment), an Arctic depression rampaging under the moniker Filomena descended from on high and buried us all alive. Snow fell. And fell. And fell over most of Spain. Sometimes it dropped in great white flakes, sometimes in smaller icy globules, sometimes in a fine sleet. But however it chose to dress, the snow stuck. And how! It settled faster than a colony of Brits on the Costa del Sol.
Some days the cold white abated and the sun ripped the sky apart, turning everything eyeball-achingly luminous. Yes, before you ask, it was beautiful. And yes, it does look better from the inside of a warm house, too. On those bright days the temperatures sank to historic lows. Indeed the weather station on the peaks behind me recorded -35 degrees, which sounds more like Nunavut than Spain. From one minute to the next, my outside sink was covered in a splintery layer of ice. I couldn’t lift the mugs up. They were iced on.
My car was back in the village, which was a blessing in one way. I’d been in the city on New Years’ Day when the white drama began, and by the time I returned the snow was already down to the village. Having asked a farmer if he thought I could make it to my house, and not quite gauging the extent of the iffiness inherent in the phrase “igualmente si”, I’d gamely attempted the track to my hutland. I did pretty well actually, keeping the car on the road for a good two kilometres before a hill of powdery catastrophe rose like a yeti before me. I saw the curve and the ascent, took a deep breath, and hammered it up the slope, hoping to work up enough momentum. But alas. The car skidded and slid, almost falling in the ditch. But not quite.
I burned a bit of rubber to realign my wheels with the track again. Then I had the brow-dampening thrill of reversing two kilometres through a thickening blizzard back into the village. That was day one of Snow World, after which I didn’t see a single vehicle on my road for about three weeks. This was a state of affairs I’d been asking my Power Ash to manifest for me. Clearly my ash tree has a sense of humour.
Things only turned more exciting from there on in.
I didn’t know anything about snow before this month. I do now. I know everything about it. Snow. There has been literally nothing else to study these past weeks.
Each morning during the Spanish Ice Age, I would wake and look at my skylight. Depending on how much snow had fallen, and how hard I’d burned my wood stove, I’d either be in darkness, or see a hole. Each day I was never entirely sure until I opened the curtain on my bedroom window, whether I was buried inside or not. I never did become entirely submerged, but I can assure you pretty much everything else did. Even my barn threatened to vanish asunder at one point, because the snow just kept on falling.
This would of course be interesting enough in a normal house where the kitchen is attached to the living space. As you know, I’m holed up in my temporary shelter (renovated chicken coop), and reaching my kitchen is something of an extreme sport requiring wellies, extra jumpers, thermal socks, hat, weatherproof jacket. A dogsled, that’s what I needed. I can’t tell you how many times I wished I’d had a couple of huskies this month.
My world was white. And cold. Sometimes wade-y, sometimes slippery, and eventually after three weeks, slushy and muddy. Each day was like being in a Buddhist monastery where you are assigned a number of ‘karma’ tasks to teach you that all in life is but transient and impermanent. I definitely grasped that by the end of Snow World. Anicca. Impermanence. You clear a path. It fills up with snow again in five minutes. You clean your solar panels hoping against the odds to grab a scrap of power, but even as you are wiping, the things are filling up with snowflakes. You replenish the hens’ water bowl knowing as you do it that it will have turned solid within the hour. Sigh.
Oh and then you realise you need to dig your way out of your land. But where is the shovel? Erm...good question. Come to think of it, where is the garden? And the plants to forage? Oh dear, what are you going to eat?
Why Preppers Might Not Survive
No matter how well prepared you are in life, you can rest assured it won’t be sufficient. It is a quirk of human reality that even if you have three backup systems, all three will break down at the same time. This is why I’m a little sceptical about contingency plans. They are hideously unreliable and curiously unable to insulate against things like fate and sheer bad luck.
I’ve always felt confident regarding food, for example, because I have a great veggie garden, and I chose my climate well, so it produces nearly all year. Even when the garden is bare, the land is rich with edible greens and nuts and other goodies, all waiting to be foraged. I have hens for eggs, and a good three months’ supply of flour and oil. I was ready for lockdowns before I’d even heard the term. But then all of a sudden my world turned white. Everything was buried under about 70 cm of snow. It was hard to even find a blade or two of grass for my hens. My birds hated it. They eyed me suspiciously as though I’d made the white happen. Then they sulked and stopped laying eggs. I ran out of vegetables. I was running out of power, too. My car is usually my last backup for charging my phone in times of woe. Alas! It was stranded a good two kilometres away, wasn’t it? Was it even still visible at this point? I had no idea.
Yeees, there’s a higher authority out there than future planning or strategic stockpiling. This is what moderns in their arrogance have forgotten. When Mother Nature goes on the rampage, no amount of prepping, or tech, or mad pharma solutions are going to help you, take it from me. There are only two things to pin your hopes on: 1) your community; 2) Gaia herself. Both are part of the same thing really, because it’s about having the humility to understand we can’t control nature. We think we can. We’re about to learn the hard way I fear, that the planet isn’t passive, but alive and kicking.
What a large cohort of moderns fail to grasp with their plans and agendas and insurance policies, is that we are only ever scanning our landscape from the most limited viewpoint. We are like ants on a broken tree trunk in a river, desperately making complex infrastructures which, if they were sitting on an agar plate on a sturdy lab desk, might work. But they are not. They are floating on the elements, utterly at their mercy. And there’s a cascade ahead. Can’t you see it yet?
So, contrary to what most off-grid advisors tell you, I say survival is not so much about stocking up on tins of beans. It’s about collaboration and relationships, not just with people, but with the planet, our intuition, and with other dimensions too. It always has been.
“Come for lunch and power your phone,” the text message read. “I’ve put a veggie cottage pie in the oven. Our generator’s on.”
One of the most unexpected blessings about this piece of land, something I never asked for nor even really wanted, are the neighbours, every single one of whom is kind and helpful. Since the pandemic began, more people have hidden themselves away up here to avoid the masked and curfewed tediousness of life in the towns, but only the hardest of the hardcore remain in the winter. Farmer Quilo took his cows down a few weeks ago. But Julia and Brian are still here, plus Segundo and Maribel up the hill.
After my feast at the almost apocalypse-proof fortress of the Brits (goats for milk and cheese, hens for eggs, greenhouse with veg, three kilowatts of power at the ready, freezer full of food), I waded gratefully home under a darkening sky with two full power packs in my pocket. “It’s not good to be without a phone in this weather,” Brian had said earlier. Wise words indeed. I turned the last corner to home. My land reclined below me like the Snow Queen. All three huts were sinking deeper and deeper into the white. The hen coop now resembled a Christmas cake with far too much icing.
I said almost apocalypse-proof. Almost. Nothing and no one is bulletproof. You see, generators need fuel. And in this type of weather when the grass has disappeared, animals need feed. This all has to be brought in somehow. Yet the roads were undriveable even with a four-by-four. Good job we have neighbours with tractors, and good job my car was still in the village.
Mission Almost Impossible
Our supply run was a collaborative effort. I needed hen food and clean laundry, my neighbours needed diesel and goat food. It was an endeavour involving Brian driving his tractor through knee-high snow to my semi-submerged car, digging my car out, a band of hikers to help push the vehicle back onto the road, and a hair-raising car sledge through the village past the crashed municipal dustcart, and down into the town.
We looked a little incongruous down there in our wellies and snow pants, what with the small iceberg sitting on my car roof and all. But we loaded up regardless of the stares. By the time we drove back up the mountain, my car was so full it was plodding up almost as slowly as the cows. I parked lower this time and waited for Brian to bring the tractor down. Our supplies filled the link box, so Julia and I trekked behind with rucksacks feeling fairly Sherpa-ish. By the time we reached my house, dusk was eating into everything. As I waded back to my land with my laundry, I watched Julia board the link box as Brian guided his motorised steed down and up the hill.
I won’t lie. I was kind of over it by then.
In the Zone
Then after about a week it happened. Just like that. The snow was somewhere between knee and thigh height. The roofs were all holding up. I had made little paths to walk through, and I had shelved all my barn building plans. An otherworldly peace had drifted down upon everything, and I had reached that glorious place in any adjustment, be it a Camino hike or barn renovation: I was in what is often referred to as The Zone.
I love The Zone. It’s this beautiful space of surrender where everything suddenly becomes easy (basically because we’ve stopped fighting against reality). The body-mind system has absorbed a new set of parameters, and miraculously (as is its way) developed new strength and stamina. It calibrates to feel the heat and the cold differently (I never thought I’d say 0 degrees is warm, but hey I did this month). Suddenly we see all the benefits of our new situation, and a divine calm descends.
I began to love sitting by the fire and writing in my hut. And the glorious snowy walks. The sunrises and sunsets were the stuff of fantasy movies. Then there was the tranquillity. It fell over everything, a soft white magical cloak of silence. I talked to the trees and the stars and the mountains, and lost myself there. The human world was now buried deep below and I missed it not one single bit. It was bliss. By day ten I didn’t want Snow World to end.
I suppose we could say another kind of snowstorm has descended over the West right now, with ‘normality’ now long buried, be it dead or alive. It’s been a year, give or take, since this all began. Some folk are thriving. Others are not. It looks like there’s a fair bit of adjustment failure going on, though.
Modern fingertips are bleeding as they slide down the icy precipice of the known and into the drifts of the unknown, clutching at what seem to me to be the most precarious experimental solutions, with no heed of the potential consequences. There’s a desperate clinging to the old ways, a refusal to adapt or even change the smallest part of a lifestyle. Perhaps more importantly it’s the psychological ruts that few seem to want to get out of. The West still seems stuck in its 20th century problem-versus-solution mindset, its war mentality, and its long-proven-disastrous attempt to try and annihilate anything inconvenient that it doesn’t understand. Surrender isn’t something I’ve heard much talk about regarding the pandemic. Most would think that means giving up.
Yet you ask anyone who has returned victorious from a huge physical challenge, be they Olympic medallists, mountaineers, or round-the-world sailors, ask how they know they’ve turned the corner, how they kept going, how they made it, or why they even do it in the first place, and they’ll always mention surrender and getting into The Zone.
Today the snow has melted. I’m about to get my car. But oh, the irony! It is the very day we go into lockdown again. Something tells me we’re being asked to sit with ourselves for a while. To stop and think a lot more than we have. To contemplate and envision something more beautiful, more loving, more trust-filled and sacred than that which went before. There are a million other more inspiring futures out there than the stale excuse for life being peddled by the old brains. All that frantic busy-ness, all that superficial crap, all the frivolousness and waste, all that flying from A to B and plundering a stack of resources in the process...
People are uncomfortable with stillness because they can’t run away from themselves. And yet, if they could just sit with the storm a while, sink into the white of their being, and dig a little deeper, they might find a far more valuable treasure buried down there. They might find they very thing they were looking for in all the wrong places. They might even get into The Zone.
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Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.