Christmas had come and gone and, as the weather would have it, no snow came to soften even the hardest mind or thrill the heart of our children during this particular and dear winter period. Rather, harsh wind and rain prevailed, wrecking havoc abroad, especially at the darkest hour of the night, as if taking perverse pleasure to torment people in their sleep.
The first weeks of January had elapsed and, apart from the occasional sheets of frost appearing now and then, it showed no sign of this weather relenting.
I was on my way to Lunderston bay, one Saturday morning of January 2016, when it struck me that subtle changes were in the air, the sky suddenly turned to a dull color and the mist seemed to appear out of nowhere as if conjured up by a sorcerer. The icy gust of wind assailed my senses and snow began to fall, the first snow of the year, light, short-lived and not deep enough to settle on the ground. Then, even though the air around me was still cold, the snow stopped and the mist was dispelled.
After a long but pleasant walk I had finally arrived at the bay. It sits on the opposite side of the road from the Cardwell garden center. The beach is separated from the road by a small car parking lot and a small strip of land gleaming with verdure where, come summer time, people from the adjacent towns and villages leisurely enjoy the arresting view of the Clyde, occasionally indulging in a picnic or a barbecue.
Twice a year, Lunderston bay becomes the turnout point for disparate like-minded volunteers whose purpose it is to perform a surveyed cleaning of the beach under the guidance of rangers.
Once again, we split up into pairs and started to work on our designated section of the beach, picking up and surveying waste and litter that had been washed ashore or left behind by careless beach goers. The data collected from the survey would be then passed over to the Marine Conservation Society.
During Lunch break, tea was organized around two Kelly kettles that Mike and Ian had lighted up with fire to boil water, and biscuits that the rangers had procured.
The day was well advanced when we finally completed our sweep and filled out the survey sheets. Snow had come and gone several times but would still not linger. We tied down the litter bags, weighted them and stored them in the trash container at the entrance of the parking lot.
All started to disperse and head for home save for a few of us, Katie, Alan, Eddie L. And Eddie H., who were planning to walk through the Ardgowan Estate.
If, moments before, the snow had been tentative, it now came flying down thick and hard, gyrating wildly in the howling wind. The dismal colors of the ground were soon covered with an immaculate white and the snow was still drifting in.
The opposite shore of the Clyde became lost in a swirling nothingness. It was not long before visibility was reduced to just a few yards. The pines of the woods bordering the road had suddenly assumed a ghostly appearance through the raging mist.
The drive towards Inverkip seemed unreal. The car pierced through the blizzard that looked as though it was going to engulf us. Snowflakes were maddeningly beating on the sides of the car like incensed locusts. And I was suddenly struck with the chaotic beauty of the fury unleashed abroad.
When we finally arrived at the Inverkip marina, Kathleen and Eddie H. were waiting for us. As the snow fall grew thicker, we headed towards the Chartroom, a bar restaurant overlooking the marina and the Firth of Clyde, leaving distinct footprints in the powdery white that would soon be erased by the fresh drifts of snow.
We all huddled around a table in the dim light of the bar room that seemed to reinforce the illusion of intimacy and privacy. We dwelt there for a while in the comforting heat of the room, sheltered from the icy claws of the roaring wind.
It was pleasant to sit lazily there, in the subdued light, over an afternoon cold drink while my companions were engaged in animated talk, punctuated with laughter, temporarily oblivious of the assaults of winter outdoors.
Outside, through the blur of drifting down snow, the marina lay, seemingly unreal. In the pallor of winter, the mast of boats were like spears of phantom soldiers who had suddenly been frozen.
As we finally went out and made our way around the Marina, the layer of snow had grown thicker and it crunched beneath our feet as if we had stepped on meringues. Everything seemed to be muted, muffled by the sobbing of the cold wind under which the snowflakes twirled frantically in a wild dance.
Slabs of ice had formed on the water, between the silent shapes of hulls, and they looked like crude, unpolished pieces of glass whose reflection of the world around was but vague, mysterious shadows.
We reached the beginning of a trail, behind a row of building, that hugs the coastline from Inverkip to Lunderston Bay through clusters of scot pines and other conifers, opening here and there onto beaches of sand or beaches of pebbles, interspersed with algae-covered jagged rocks upon which lashed the foaming waves of the Clyde.
We had walked there for a while, barely encountering any other souls, when we decided to follow a path into the woods that are part of the Ardgowan Estate.
The world around us had taken an almost mono chromatic quality as all hues had been subdued and the towering trees loomed over us like frozen surly giants. It was hard to imagine that, in a few months from now, with the imminent arrival of spring and the reluctant withdrawal of winter, the woods would burst with vibrant emerald foliage.
Straying from the main path, we ventured deeper into the woods, where the undergrowth grew thicker, impeding, somehow, our advance as each bush or shrub became an obstacle and trees seemed to stretch their spidery branches to claw at us. We had entered a dizzying maze of wilderness and the spirit of the forest rebelled our against our intrusion that disturbed its peace.
The thin track was hidden under the snow. Our way was, for a while, enigmatically lost in this frozen realm among the dark shapes of the numerous trees of all kinds towering around us in all their splendor: beeches, silver birches, alders, oaks, pines and spruces. And it was like a dream of beauty. For an instant, I forgot about the falling snow, I forgot about the sobbing wind lashing out through the air and the biting cold that was wont to clutch at every spores of my skin and drain the energy out of my body. this wooded scenery held, in short, a powerful fascination over me and it represented, to my eyes, the perfect romance of winter.