I left after work on Thursday, driving north for the last Silent Eye meeting before the April workshop. The sun was shining, the day was balmy… spring had, it seemed, finally sprung after the torrential rain that had battered the land all night. Six counties, several road closures and five hours later, I had driven through spring and back into a watery world where the rain lashed the windscreen faster than the wipers could clear it.
Yet the sun greeted me again as I drove over the Derbyshire hills and into Yorkshire. Traces of white winter lingered in the lee of stone walls where the shadows preserved the last remnants of snow. Daffodils strained at the leash, wanting only a little warmth to burst forth in all their golden glory… and then I hit a wall of fog and I was glad to reach my destination and dinner.
The next day we headed back across the hills to Greater Manchester for the meeting… and later inched our way home, gripping tight to the wheel, as the fog enclosed us. We could see no more than a couple of yards ahead as we drove across the unlit hills on narrow, twisting roads and were grateful to reach the relative safety of the freezing-cold city. And then, as if that wasn’t enough…the next day, it snowed.
It snowed most of the day while we worked, but did not choose to settle until we had ventured out in search of food. Less than an hour over a late lunch and we found the car covered in a thick layer of the white stuff. And then… it snowed some more, squashing the winter pansies in their pots, covering the city in a silent shroud.
We were pretty much stuck, at the mercy of what the weather was doing, and could only wait for the roads to clear just enough for safety before venturing out the next day. The world was beautiful… but, as we essayed the roads I would have to take to drive south, full of dangers.
Roads which seemed passable were soon snow-bound. Vehicles were abandoned in drifts several feet deep. The few inches of powdery snow that had fallen was being whipped by the wind into great, white plumes that heaped fresh hazards on the road and, overnight, the packed snow and slush turned to ice.
The drive home was not an easy one and I could not predict the way I would have to go, but I was determined to get home for my son’s birthday. As long as I stayed on the main roads, it was not too difficult to drive, but beyond Bakewell, the ‘main’ roads are narrow, winding lanes across exposed moors and fields. There was a point at which I should have turned back, were I being sensible…and were there anywhere to turn. The little car skied and skittered down slopes of packed ice, on roads you could no longer see. I could not take my usual route, but followed the clearest roads, knowing that just a few miles away was a real main road… and that would be clear. Or so I thought.
The main road was clear… except where it wasn’t. Huge drifts of snow, twice as high as the car, bounded the road. Where the wind could blow them, the road was buried. So were the abandoned cars. Such refuge as one would normally find… like the stopping places and pubs… were completely cut off. Once you were on the road, all you could do was drive.
Or stop, when rescue operations blocked the road. There is always a silver lining, if you look for it and there was a bright side to this; parked at the head of a line of waiting traffic, right next to Gib Hill at Arbor Low, was one of the few chances I had to take pictures.
The local farmer hauled the stranded car down from the heap of snow and we set off again. There was little snow on the fields… it all seemed to have congregated in the roadside drifts. This made all the usually-hidden features visible. Standing stones stood out, dark against the white. Old earthworks and medieval ridge-and-furrow fields were easy to see, highlighted by the snow and the rays of the rising sun turned whole swathes of the landscape to silver.
Leaving the hills behind, the roads became less hazardous and I relaxed into the journey. Driving south, the snow lessened and melted in the warm sun. By the time I left my son’s and finished my day, there was barely a trace of snow to be seen. The weather that had played such a part in the past few days was once again balmy and vernal.
I could not help seeing the analogy with the greater journey that we take through life. Even if we think we know where we are going, the road always has surprises in store for us. Some of them are beautiful… some hazardous, but all are unpredictable.
There will always be times when we are forced into taking an unplanned route, diverted from our path by force majeur. There will be times when, no matter what we do, the conditions of the journey prevent us from seeing the road ahead. We will be blinded by a deluge of tears, buried beneath the weight of grief or lost in a fog of indecision, not knowing which way to turn.
We will, without a doubt, sometimes feel that we will never reach our destination. But, just as surely, there will be a helping hand to pull us back from the brink… a ray of sunshine through the dark clouds that gather round us, or a moment of beauty to lift the spirits. And somewhere along the way, there will be the warmth and welcome of love.
All journeys have a beginning and an end, though where or when either of those may be, is a question we may never be able to answer. Does a journey begin when you place your foot on the path or long before the decision is made to travel? Does it end when you arrive at your destination, or is that merely a stop on the way? Spring has its beginnings in the deep darkness of winter. Seeds sown in spring will blossom in summer and, in turn, produce their own fruit in autumn. The road, like the cycle of life is endless…and both will lead us home.