THE loch has been frozen for maybe two weeks or more. Slabs of ice in jagged plates have been pushed on to the shore from an earlier freeze by an easterly wind. Then inch by inch, the surface has frozen from the edges out into the middle. Day by day, snow has fallen on ice, on snow.
Each day the dogs and I wander down to the loch, eventually walking its length on the strength of the black, black ice.
Temperatures below -15C during the dark, silent nights have maintained the dry freezing air and icy ground conditions. The skies have been smeared with greys, pinks and blues – subtle tints smudged above the winter atmosphere that was smart on my face.
What has been apparent as Britain almost stood still over December has been the lack of wind – nothing to shake the snow off the fragile branches or disperse the falls more evenly over the land. But what if we were caught in this deathly stillness all of the time?
We shall not be. The fact that our planet is in constant motion means that the surface is unevenly heated by the sun. These conditions create an unstable atmosphere that may change from moment to moment. If the atmosphere and the planet rotated in unison there would be no wind.
Tropical regions absorb more heat than they give out, resulting in a great surplus. However, in the polar regions the situation is reversed; more heat is shed than absorbed. If this unfair distribution was not dealt with the consequences would be disastrous. Water is one of the mechanisms that can achieve a better balance but by far the greatest catalyst is our ocean of air that we call the atmosphere.
Convection currents are what move the excess hot air from the equator to the poles. On reaching these cold extremes, the air is cooled and condenses to return to the equator.
If this process were to continue in this manner, and the earth was still, the winds would blow north and south only. However, we have to factor in the rotation of the planet, which seems obvious nowadays but was worked through by an English scientist, George Hadley, in 1735.
Hence the term Hadley’s cells used for the multiple loops of air that rise and fall in cells as the twist towards the poles. The description of the phenomenon was embellished as the centuries went on and our understanding of the movement of air around the globe became even more complicated to include polar fronts, doldrums and a collection of easterlies and westerlies.
A thaw has started and Riskinhope Burn, which was reduced to a hidden trickle beneath thick ice and snow, has changed its appearance. A film of water runs over a mush of snow, held up by a tenacious layer of ice, and it has turned a creamy-yellow-gray – mellowed, no longer gripped in an intense frozen white.
Pockets of the loch are like gaping holes gasping for breath as tiny vents of air rise to make a single perfectly round bubble in the centre.
Trapped as I am by low clouds, which have decapitated the hills and filled in my view at either end of the deep valley, I now ache for the wind to release me from the snow globe I find myself silently encased in. Without wind, where would the poets send their passionate words to and find an embodiment for their heartache and signs of longing?
O western wind, when wilt thou blow,
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.
This is a Scottish verse, author unknown but like the pockets of wind, it must resonate in almost everyone’s experience.
I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night,
When the winds are breathing low
And the stars shining bright.
This line is from The Indian Serenade by Percy B Shelley. Despite the simplicity of the language the reference to the wind evokes completely the heaving chest of the lover awaiting the next meeting with the object of their love.
The wind is the universal breath of us all.