The wind stays in the north and east, and it’s cold enough to wipe the smile off your face. There’s a hare lying in the leeward edge of a turnip rig, and the ice birls upon his jacket.
I long for a brutal winter, and I’m forever disappointed. In recent years, winter has become a slippery mess which pools and blunders through the darkness. We had five days of frost last winter – five days is hardly enough to harden the soil or skin any but the shallowest of puddles. Snow fell one afternoon, but it was gone before dark. I came back into the spring with a feeling that I had missed out.
There was a time when winter was something worth worrying about. Storms would blow the electricity off, and snow would fall in swathes to the windowsill. Significant parts of my childhood were spent in darkness, reading a book by the fire because we couldn’t leave the house and sledging had stopped being fun. You had to work around weather like that, but it seems to come less often than ever before.
And it’s a failing of climate change that we’re being given softer winters as the world begins to shift away from its fulcrum. Winter weather is becoming less relevant to us, and our lives continue without any need to adjust for seasonality. Imagine if five feet of snow fell tonight from out of the blue. We’d be staggered by it – we’d have cause to think long and hard about how the world was going. But no such thing will happen, and we think instead about whether to turn the radiator up in the car. My grandparents would keep a pantry filled with tinned food and winter supplies because you never knew what nature was planning. But it’s milder these days, and we don’t have to care anymore – just at the moment when we should be caring more than ever.
And if I’m feeling miserly, then perhaps it’s attributable (at least in part) to the discovery that in the recent hard frosts, many of my turnips have caught the chill and begun to decay. Turnips are supposed to store energy all winter, but they do need a little help to hold their value. I should have had them covered over and buried in straw and muck by now, but I thought I had time to spare. I can still feed these damaged turnips to the cattle, but it scuppers my plans to keep them and eke them out. Now it’s a battle against waste; I’ll have to feed them as fast as I can.
This is the latest of so many errors I have made in this crop, and the fault lies solely with me. I was so focussed upon the mechanics of growing turnips that I seem to have overlooked the value of timing. So I was too late to hoe and thin the crop, then too early to start lifting it. Then I was too late to get the best of the shaws and I missed my chance to put a covering on the clamp to protect the turnips from the falling temperature, which fell to minus seven degrees celsius earlier in the week. I’ll know better next year, and I take consolation from the fact that everything I’ve done has been perfect – it’s only my timing that has been wrong.
And so I plead for a hard winter and the spectre of deep snow, but I would be pleading with a good deal more comfort if my turnips were safe and cosy and I had not fumbled yet another chore.