Today on the blog, I’m off to explore for #ReadIndies a book from a lovely indie press which is relatively new to me – Little Toller Books. I’m not entirely sure where I came across them, but it was probably on book Twitter; and they’re a publisher specialising in classic and new writing about nature, wildlife and landscape. I’ve read and loved two of their books so far – “Beyond the Fell Wall” and “On Silbury Hill“. Both are part of the Little Toller Monographs range, and today’s book is another one of those – “Snow” by Marcus Sedgwick.

Since every snowflake must take an individual path towards the ground, no two will have had precisely the same conditions for growth, and so no two will be alike.

Sedgwick is an author and illustrator with many prizes under his belt; and “Snow” takes a very personal look at that white fluffy stuff that appears to be so pretty but can be so devastating to the human species. Divided into six sections, to replicate the six points of a snowflake, the book explores different aspects of show – from the science, the art inspired by it, its histories and mythologies to the transformations it brings about. Sedgwick is old enough (like me) to remember times when snowfall was more prolonged and dramatic in the south of Britain; and interestingly, he explores whether this is just his faulty memory making more of what happened and concludes from consulting meteorological records that in fact it was the case – winters *were* snowier when he (and I!) were younger.

The explorations of the past are also fascinating, looking at periods like the Little Ice Age (which features so memorably, for example, in Woolf’s “Orlando” during eras when the Thames would freeze); and also going back to the times of the glaciers, looking at the effects on our landscapes. There are of course many fables and legends set in cold worlds, such as the fairy tale of the Snow Queen; and as Sedgwick points out, it’s not surprising that Jadis in the Narnia stories has the land plunged into permanent winter. Cold and snow equate with ice which is symbolic of darker, more evil people and intent.

For most of us, life in the fullest sense of the word is unthinkable without some form of art. I have met people who deny there is any great need for art; that the important things in life are food, shelter, education and so on. And yes, of course these things are vital, with but without art in some form, be it music, film, literature etc., we are not living.

“Snow” is a slim work of only 104 pages, yet it probes deeply into our relationship with the weather, and how snowfall appears throughout our stories, whatever form they appear in. Woven into the book are Sedgwick’s personal experiences with the substance; he currently lives at the edge of the French Alps, and as he relates, snowfall and the avalanches it brings can be a matter of life and death.  Sedgwick’s descriptions of waking up to a silent, changed world really resonated – there’s a strangeness to the world when it’s been blanketed in snow, and I’m not sure humans are ever completely reconciled to that.

Nature’s timescales are somewhat longer than our own, even than that of our species. Nature has a way of doing what she wants to, in the end, and it only needs a little land and snowslide to block the road to remind us of that.

Ironically, I started reading this book on the first day of this winter’s snow in my part of the world; and it certainly shed light on my sometimes complex feelings about this kind of weather and the effect it has on our everyday world. The emotions stirred when you’re faced with a landscape covered with untouched snow are deep, and the spectacle is beautiful. Yet there’s always an ambivalence because of the restriction and disruption it can cause to everyday life, as well as the actual physical danger it can create. Particularly in this country, we never seem prepared to deal with the changes snow brings, and I have felt nervous and slightly threatened in the past during heavy falls; at those times, my go-to therapy is reading “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder and reminding myself that what’s happening here is not so bad and even if the trains aren’t running properly for a day, I’m not going to starve… And during these lockdown times I am less bothered as I’m not exactly going anywhere much; though seeing how the car behaved during the recent snow on a short trip to the shop for vegetables was a reminder of the substance’s power to disrupt.

Psy guy, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

But I digress. “Snow” is a beautiful book and another delight from Little Toller. An often poetic and profound meditation on the white stuff and its effects, it was ideal reading whilst snuggled down and cosy. The book is the perfect mix of the personal and the universal, and Sedgwick’s thoughts on the effects of climate change were also sobering, and got me thinking again about the need to channel my inner Greta Thunberg. Will we reach a time on the planet when there is no more snow? I fear we will, and that will be such a shame. It’s a substance that has the ability to transform our landscape, fascinate us and allow us to look at our world anew, inspiring myths and stories – and without snow, our world will be a poorer place.