Sunday 10 January 2010

The Shannon is frozen

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)
photo Andreas Trepte,

Yesterday I watched the Whooper swans leave Dromineer: three straggling Vs, honking as they went, almost yellow against the grey snowy sky. They know what they are about, these great migratory birds which come to us from Iceland every winter. No doubt the last patch of water they were keeping open was begining to freeze, so they decided to head on further South, to the Wexford slobs perhaps.

I went down to the beach at Dromineer in the late afternoon, and the lake looked to be frozen as far as the eye could see, at least as far as the Corrikeen Islands. Families with chidren and dogs were gathering in a magical light to venture out onto the ice, marvelling at the once-in-a-generation sight. I feel sure they were quite safe within a few yards of the shore, but a few foolhardy souls had ventured out as far as a hundred yards. I could see the ice was barely 2 inches thick - far to thin to be safe away from the shore - so I yelled at them to come back, which to give them their due they did - lads from the Nenagh Canoe Club, who quite understood the point of my officious behaviour.

I remember as a child in East Anglia learning to skate on the frozen Towny in Landbeach with cushions tied on fron and back to soften my falls. I also remember being taken to the Fen Championships, which are only held in years when the ice is thick enough, where hundreds of spectators watch the competitors skate at staggering speeds round a course marked on the ice. I see that they are being held this year today, 10th January 2010, on Whittlesey Wash.

And my mother, God bless her, had a story about how, when the Shannon froze in the early 1930s, with some friends she walked from Luska over to the Galway shore pushing a small boat in front of them for safety. With global warming I never thought I would see the lake frozen myself, but of course a freeze like this is weather, not climate. We may be freezing here, but it has nothing to do with climate change: according to Dr Walter Meier of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado, this winter “pretty much all of the Arctic is above normal” - by as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas.

I was due to take services in Templederry and Puckane today, but I cancelled them after talking to the Church Wardens. The sermon I had planned will fly another day. A good decision. As I write this now, from my study window I can see the snow falling gently. The drive and road are pure white. A day to stay put and thank God for the beauty of snow, a warm house and water that still runs.

Drive and Labyrinth in the snow

Raised beds & Lime alley in the snow

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