Solstice, surreality and snow


The shortest day of the year. Sunrise 8.15am, sunset 5.13pm, though that’s academic when you factor in a mountainous horizon and a low blanketing of snow cloud. The boys and I celebrate with a little pagan-style mortification of the flesh: a midwinter dip in Lake Hawea. Water temperature an estimated 10 degrees, air temperature 0.7 degrees, wind chill factor -1. The lake shore is pristine with 10cm of fresh fluffy snow and a light powder continues to fall steadily as we strip off and hotfoot it down to the water’s edge.

The immersion turns out to be the easy part – it’s definitely warmer in than out – and the misery is all in the feet, afterwards, as I track and re-track back up through the snow to assist and chivvy and eventually carry my cold-paralysed sons, my toes passing rapidly through the pain stage to the so-numb-I-lost-my-jandals-somewhere-in-a-snowdrift-and-walked-on-gravel-and-couldn’t-even-tell stage. But I’d do it again tomorrow, if there was a nice pair of Uggs waiting for me on the shore.

Hapless, of course, declines to participate, being temperamentally less carpe diem/ embrace the tiger /#yolo and more “I think I’ll have a nice cup of tea”. Which at least means there’s someone to point the camera, so that my purple-blotched gooseflesh and violently puckering nipples can be recorded for posterity.

The gleeful lunacy of it all rounds off what has been a surreal and memorable few days in Charles Court. The same week that sees an out-of-control van hurtle off the driveway above our house, across the two adjacent sections, over the road, past a boat trailer, through a fence, across another section, through the ranchsliders and smack bang into the centre of my up-the-road whanau’s lounge, the promised blizzards actually arrive, dumping luxurious quantities of snow on Hawea and forcing the closure of the school for two days. I know!

So yes, freak accident, made freakier by the enormously long odds of that particular driver of that particular people-mover managing to have that particular medical episode at that particular point on his precipitous driveway, and contriving to leave his foot heavy on the accelerator throughout the entire trajectory while at the same time managing to avoid any of the probably fatal obstacles that would have stopped him at any point before he wound up neatly parallel parked in my uncle’s living room, which happens to be set a long way back from the road in an almost trafficless cul-de-sac on the rural boundary of a sleepy Otago town, population 1500; and made all the more sobering by the fact that any or all of our tiny cousins, their parents and my elderly grandmother could very easily have been on their couch at 8pm on a Monday – the couch that ended up shunted across the room and blasted with a wicked mixture of double-glazed ranchslider and automotive glass – but just happened to all be at the back of the house thanks to the kids being slightly under the weather and my nana still recovering from shoulder surgery. Anyway, no one hurt, damage surprisingly minimal, dude getting his head examined.

The van is backed out by fire crew… but it was right in there, sideways

So that was weird. Well, after the last ‘polar blast’ left us pretty much alone, we weren’t holding our breath for snow this time round, but on Wednesday night it started to snow, and snow, and snow, and by the time we woke up on Thursday it was what the Herald picture caption writer would call ‘a winter wonderland’ outside. Our sons capered like it was Christmas. By 7.15am we’d had it confirmed via Radio Wanaka (“92.2FM… Local and loving it”) that school was closed, and the boys were in their full snow gear.

Apart from a couple of reluctant toilet visits – so reluctant, on Number Two Son’s part, that he ended up peeing himself copiously not once but twice, all through his ski pants, thermals, two pairs of socks and into his snow boots, twice – and a swift lunch break, they spent most of the next eight hours outside, tobogganing and digging snow caves and doing all the things that slightly deranged small boys do in snow (throw it, eat it, wee on it, roll in it, do headstands in it, jump out of trees into it, discover you can’t ride your bike in it, attempt to play rugby in it, shovel it purposefully from one place to another, etc etc etc).

It snowed again all day on Friday, thick swirling clouds of the stuff, which resurfaced the well-compacted toboggan runs and lured the boys out for another gruelling day of bruising their coccyxes (coccyges?) and hurling snowballs whenever they caught sight of each other through the blizzard. And continued to snow all night Friday, and finally stopped at lunchtime today.

The snow itself is glorious, great virgin expanses of it everywhere you look, all creamy knee-deep drifts and seductive armfuls of powder. I find myself compelled to fling myself into piles of it at regular intervals, just for the sheer voluptuousness of it, or to go out and stamp around in it with that odd despoiling instinct that seizes us when confronted with the impossible, transient perfection of snow.

We go out for a whole-family frolic in it by the lake this afternoon, snow being an excellent medium for venting latent familial aggression; a means of exacting subtle revenges on those we’re forced to share living space and genetic material with.

So, a last marvellous hurrah for this rare Hawea phenomenon – supposedly a 20-year event – before the coming week of sunshine despatches it. But the Cardrona skifield is groaning under a record yield of perfect powder, so tomorrow… well, we’ll just have to check it out.

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