The Wintry Year; Alpine Punch and Lambs

We’ve had our first real snowfall of the year today. At six this morning it didn’t look of the staying kind, but sometime between then and now it turned into powder, and now it’s boot season as well as felt hat, scarf and gloved hands season. It makes today’s tea selection especially appropriate. Nothing says winter warmth more readily than a cup of rooibos tea.

This one is called Alpine Punch, and we’ve been buying it for years off our own bat, one of the inheritors of the much-mythologised Crumble Tea. They aren’t the same at all (nothing is the same as that tea was): this one is warmer and rounder in tone, with ginger and almonds as well as apple and cinnamon. It’s longer in the mouth too, and the rooibos means it has more spice in the taste than Crumble Tea ever did. We’ve used it before now to take the chill out of many a dreich Scots day, the kind when the wind comes rattling over the water from Norway and the haar is rolling in heavy off the sea. But it does in a pinch for a snowy day too.

Certainly we’d much rather be indoors nursing a cup of tea when the snow comes, than traipsing about in it. We like our weather the other side of a window, where it always looks lovely and we don’t hear Nelly Deane mentally telling us off for the acquisition of damp stockings. That, by the way, is what comes of studying English Literature. You remember all the most unlikely quotes and are duly ambushed by them at strange, improbable intervals.

Having said that, here’s a poem about snow that speaks to the hopefulness of the season. We initially supposed it was about spring lambing, but then we remembered that before now we’ve heard of winter lambs over in Ambridge, and people who know us know we get quite a lot of our agricultural understanding from that fictive idyll. The rest of it we owe to Hardy, and we recall he also has winter lambs in spots. Gabriel Oak mismothers one around this season, if we remember right. Anyway, this is neither Ambridge-isnpired nor more Hardy. It’s a poem by Phillip Larkin, and, like snow, rather lovely in its imagery.

First Sight

Phillip Larkin

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Here fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

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