Friday, January 11, 2013

Uphill in the Snow, Both Ways

January sometimes seems rather bleak and quiet after the glitter of Christmas. Writers in nineteenth century England record that the weather then tended to be bright with frost, foggy, or snowy. Young ladies and gentlemen, forced indoors, might have been known to gaze out the window and sigh. Perhaps their moping even occasioned a scold from a parent on how to persevere. “Why, when I was a lad, I walked to school in the snow, uphill, both ways!” Certainly the author of the January 1817 “The Naturalist’s Diary” in Time’s Telescope and Complete Almanac took great pains to describe the importance of snow in winter, as if trying to justify nature’s chill. Snow, he says, is good for growing vegetables:

“The great use of snow is to furnish a covering to the roots of vegetables, by which they are guarded from the influence of the atmospherical cold, and the internal heat of the earth is prevented from escaping. The internal parts of the earth are heated uniformly to the 48th degree of Fahrenheit’s thermometer. This degree of heat is greater than that in which the watery juices of vegetables freeze, and it is propagated from the inward parts of the earth to the surface, on which the vegetables grow.”

Note that this fact would not have been encouraging to the teens in my house. Perhaps wondering whether his own teens would feel the same way, he goes on to prove to them that winter in England is a great deal better than winter other places, such as Lapland, which, he says, has the following calendar:

“June 23. Snow melts.
July 1. Snow gone
July 9. Fields quite green
July 17. Plants at full growth.
July 25. Plants in full blow.
August 2. Fruits ripe
August 10 Plants shed their seeds
August 18. Snow.”

And, of course, there’s Russia:

“There is nothing more extraordinary in Russia (observes Dr. Clarke), than the transition of the seasons. The people of Moscow have no Spring: Winter vanishes and Summer is! This is not the work of a week, or of a day, but of one instant; and the manner of it exceeds belief. We came from Petersburgh [sic] to Moscow in sledges. The next day snow was gone. On the 8th of April, at mid-day, snow beat in at our carriage windows. On the same day, at sun set, arriving in Moscow, we had difficulty in being dragged through the mud to the commandant’s. The next morning the streets were dry, the double windows had been removed from the houses, the casements thrown open, all the carriages were upon wheels, and the balconies filled with spectators. Another day brought with it the warmth of summer."
So how does he recommend that young ladies and gentlemen spend their time in January? Spreading manure on the family fields, threshing the barley in the barn, felling trees, and going ice skating.

I think I’d try the ice skating, though not uphill, either way.

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