One of the things I missed most when I moved from Scotland to Asia, was snow. I really missed it. When I was buried in the newness of breast cancer life, and burying myself in bloggery as a way of keeping a focus on moving forward and playing around with settings, I vaguely remember finding some function or gimmick which offered a special “snowing” feature for the month of December. This gifts me the illusion of snowflakes falling on the blog page throughout the whole month of December. How sweet. Or how annoying. And how northern-hemisphere-centric! Ever since then I am reminded of my rash “click here for December snow” action as it returns every year without fail and people ask me what is wrong with my screen! I think I believed that this might be a nice way of remembering snow. Now that I am in Myanmar, snow is even more distant with our hotter climate, usually dry winters and lush tropical vegetation. Not a snowflake in sight, and no prospects of snow sighting. So perhaps I felt that this would be a good way of maintaining my relationship with snow!
After leaving Scotland, and moving to Nepal I was particularly surprised at just how much I missed snow. Of course, parts of Nepal do see snow, those famous Himalayas for example, but snow rarely fell in the Kathmandu valley and certainly not while I was there. One year there was a dusting of snow on the hills around the valley, and there was great excitement, cars driving up to the hills and then slithering around the roads as the drivers were not used to these conditions. From the winter of 2000 right until after I left Nepal at the end of 2005 I only saw snow from a distance, picture postcard-like views of the Himal and their snow capped peaks.
Beautiful, snowy snow. But too far away to seem real. No crunch of snow underfoot, no hypnotically mesmerising kaleidoscope of snow falling in front of my eyes, no smell of snow as it headed towards us, no sepia sky brimming with snowflakes, no trees with branches laden with heavy snow coverings. No snow to touch or kick up as I walked. And I really missed it.
I missed it to the extent that I used to dream of snow. Sweet nostalgia dreams, from which I would wake in a warm fuzzy mood, bathed in childhood like sentiment. One dream has stayed with me very clearly. I was standing at the edge of a field, covered in snow. The snow was untouched, and I ran into the field revelling in the sensation of snow underfoot, and ridiculously excited at the fun I was having. I was aware, in my dream, of people watching me, with critical eyes as I stirred up the snow. Clearly I was breaking some “don’t run in the field and spoil the snow” rule. I remember clearly justifying my actions, and explaining that I had not seen snow for many years, and feeling a level of frustration that I was not understood.
It was to be the end of 2005 before I would experience snow again…………..
Nepal has cold winters, and of course Scotland is not short of cold weather, but our transfer to Mongolia brought a new league of cold. We arrived in mid November when temperatures were around -20C. Phenomenally cold. Colder than I had ever experienced, although some very severe winters in Scotland had seen minus 10 – 15C. However, the paralysing -20C was consistently labelled “pleasant autumn weather”. A real signal of what we knew was ahead.
The temperatures drop rapidly as the short summer turns to winter, and for months sit well under freezing point. In December and January daytime temperatures would rise to around a balmy minus 35C with night time temperatures dropping to the high minus 40s.
Way beyond the experience of so many of us. Read hard core cold.The rivers start to freeze over in October and by November you can safely walk across them. By December they are the winter roads. By April, they are thawing again, a slow process melting layers of ice which can be metres thick, the sound of the ice cracking and creaking for weeks as slowly, gradually it melts.
My walk to work was less than ten minutes, but in the early days in Mongolia, I found I would be running late every day because I drastically underestimated how long it would take to get dressed with all the needed layers. My feet started hurting, and blisters appeared on my heels because I was not used to wearing closed shoes. And even in the short walk to work, I discovered previously unknown fine hairs on my face thanks to them freezing rapidly when I stepped into the cold air. Even though I was covered head to toe with only my eyes and upper face exposed.
We did not have to wait long for snow! However, I soon realised that Mongolian snow is very different to Scottish snow. The climate is incredibly arid in Mongolia, and the cold accompanied by blue skies. Therefore, the Mongolian snow is powdery and fine, and tends to be a thin dusting more often than deep drifts. It is very difficult to make snowballs from dry, powdery snow, and this made me realise just how wet and slushy our Scottish snow tends to be! But I could still smell it approaching, that unmistakeable scent of damp and cold all rolled into that unique snow smell.
We lived in Mongolia for just over a year, which meant we in effect experienced two winters. The last snow of the outgoing winter fell in June on Ulaan Baatar, a light dusting and a respite until the first snow of the new winter which fell the last week of August. After five years of now snow, I truly caught up with my snow deficit. The pictures on this post are a tiny selection of images and memories of Mongolian winter. I bought my first digital camera just before we left Nepal, and took around 4000 photos in Mongolia! (The only photograph which is not my own is the first picture (above) of the Nepali Himalaya.)
Mongolia is rightly known as a land of horsemen and herders.
And children learn to ride almost as soon as they can walk.
The herders live in tough conditions, in mobile homes (gers) which move according to the season for the right grazing and shelter conditions for the animals.
Life in the countryside revolves around the livestock which includes camels, yak and goats as well as horses.
As I sit here in the the only weeks of year which are vaguely cool in Yangon, surrounded by lush vegatation and unable to recall what that deep cold really feels like, it is nice to wallow a little in the memories of such a different place, with its wonderful snowy associations.
And appreciate again the truly amazing experiences I have been fortunate to have. And that is something that cancer can never steal from me.