It’s snowing here. We get a little snow every now and then to remind us that skin is no protection against nature and how vulnerable we would be without heat, light and food on tap. Without easy access to those things many of us would die because we have forgotten how to survive.

I could go on about dystopian and ‘survivor’ novels, but I’ll save you that dubious pleasure for another time. I vaguely remember someone, Marx or Mao or the writers of ‘Red Dwarf’ Series 3, saying ‘All societies are only three meals away from revolution’ or the like and thinking that I could substitute several Big Macs for ‘three meals’ without loss of meaning or result.

The snow cares not where it falls, but when I look at it transforming the familiar view through my window into something that a childish part of my mind says is beautiful, then I also think about the homeless sheltering from that beauty, as it mindlessly tries to kill them.

I live in a rural area and for the homeless here there are fewer places to escape nature than there are in the city. Every winter, with a regularity that suggests premeditation, an unfortunate is found frozen to death behind a stone wall, in a field or even a doorway and the death is recorded as misadventure. I doubt that person’s life was much of an adventure (I might be wrong), but to dismiss it with an innocuous word like ‘misadventure’ is an insult to the dead. Perhaps we should call it manslaughter or culpable homicide – in the Scottish legal sense  –  since we all partook in the death, by omission, or just by being too busy to notice someone slip from being a live human to being a dead misadventure.

But the snow doesn’t care what you call its effect.

Like so much of nature, it has its own agenda. Or maybe it only appears to have any agenda at all.

So, when some of my friends talk about Gaia and the Earth as if both were human, I’m reminded of how we anthropomorphise animals as if they were human, too. I’m as guilty as anyone with my tales of William the Cat, because it’s easier to imagine him being purposeful in a cognitive manner and planning his exploits i.e. killing living creatures, than it is to see him as a pre-programmed machine slaughtering that which moves across his field of vision and is invariably defenceless.

I don’t know which version is true, but I suspect that William would have little compunction in biting my head off if I were the size of a bank vole or he were the size of a tiger. If you haven’t seen the movie The Life of Pi’ by the way, go and see it, if only for the superbly animated tiger and an example of how both the writer and director tread the anthropomorphic line with great skill and only retreat into sentiment for the sake of the audience. There are some important differences between the book and the film, but I’ll leave you to discover them.

The snow is now driving across my window, the sky is grey and darkness has descended into this corner of Derbyshire. When it’s done it’s thing I’ll admire how clean the world is and forget, for just a moment, that it’s not and that we are very old in our sins.

My new novel is started and there will be good people, bad people and many people who are both, if either term has any absolute meaning. The snow doesn’t care who or what they are: it would kill them all without favouritism, without feeling, without guilt, because it is not human. Like William.

That thought might depress me but the sun has just broken through and there are drips of water from the guttering. One of my surviving robins has made an appearance and is tucking into a soggy piece of burnt – but organic – home made bread and eyeing me with the mistrust of the very small for the very big. Is he a machine, too? I have no idea because I don’t know if that thought is the thought of yet another machine.

When the gods went back to Valhalla, they forgot to tell us.

Ps. I scribbled this yesterday and today all the snow has gone and the sun is shining in a ‘trust me, but keep the thermal underwear on’ way. Haha! The gods were listening! Or it might just be another tweak of my programming.

Distantly, I can see leaden clouds, so perhaps I should have kept my mechanical mouth shut.


About J.D.Hughes

Writer of supernatural thrillers, NORTHMAN & AND SOON THE SONG on Amazon and three short stories: BOMBER, ISSUE 49 and THE 500 on Amazon and Smashwords. New novel to be published mid 2018, but on current performance might be posthumously...
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  1. What an awesome, compassionate post. I think I’ll just share this–we’ve had little snow here, but the homeless and less fortunate are still as vulnerable as ever. I like the way you speak of their lives with respect and acceptance instead of condescension and paranoia.

    Quote: “The snow is now driving across my window, the sky is grey and darkness has descended into this corner of Derbyshire. When it’s done it’s thing I’ll admire how clean the world is and forget, for just a moment, that it’s not and that we are very old in our sins.”

    A beautifully written post.


    • J.D.Hughes says:

      Thank you, Connie. When I was leaving the burnt bread for the robins I wondered if it should have been for people rather than birds.

      Locally, years ago, there was an old man – a non-religious hermit left over from the ’60s – who lived in a nearby cave. People were kind and left him food and clothing anonymously over about 15 years. He died one winter of pneumonia, but in a warm hospital and not in the freezing cave. One of his silent visitors had called the ambulance. I thought their attitude showed both respect and compassion.


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  3. Mari Biella says:

    I’ve very little to add to the above comment – beautifully written and very compassionate. We need to think about the extent to which we are collectively responsible when people fall through the net and are left alone in the world. There but for the grace of God…

    A fresh coat of snow is undeniably beautiful, but it can also be a killer. Strange, and unnerving, to think how often beauty and savagery exist side-by-side. It’s wonderful how you take an observation about the weather and use it as a starting-point for such a philosophical post.


    • J.D.Hughes says:

      Thank you, Mari. You are right. It’s easy to let others slip and I needed reminding.

      I suppose my attitude to Nature, is to enjoy the bits I can understand and respect the bits I can’t. Harking back, I used to believe that it had some knowledge of us (Peace, Love, man), but now I think of it as the universe just being what it is, without much reference to us, grinding away to a conclusion beyond my short life or abilities to predict.

      It would be good to be wrong.


  4. Paula Cappa says:

    J.D., is snow a player in your new novel? Your post reminds me of what Wordsworth said about snow. “… the whited air, hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven, and veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.” I happen to love when weather is part of stories and novels (although there are many “experts” who cite writing rules never to start your prose with weather). We are so affected by weather and nature every single day, why shouldn’t our fictional characters be affected too?


  5. J.D.Hughes says:

    I can’t resist the lure of weather descriptions. Paula. As you know, that’s a major topic of conversation in the UK. Complete strangers will begin chatting about the weather in the most unlikely of circumstances. But no, so far it hasn’t appeared in the new novel. That’s not to say it won’t, now you’ve suggested it.

    A short story I wrote back in 1977 had a demonic thundercloud attempting to fry and drown a chap who’d polluted a stream with toxic waste (ah, the youthful zeal). He was certainly affected, but not by death 🙂


  6. K. S. Bowers says:

    Love this and love how your writing makes me think of things in a way I ordinarily wouldn’t. Also, is it weird that I read your posts with an English accent? 😀


    • J.D.Hughes says:

      Not at all weird, K. I read your excellent blog as if I were in ‘Gone With The Wind’. Scarlett O’Hara has a lot to answer for! Great to hear from you again and hope the novel is blossoming into a bestseller 🙂


  7. Lene says:

    I’ve missed your writing. Yes, I know I have the book, but… I’ve missed your writing. This was beautiful.


  8. J.D.Hughes says:

    As always, you are too kind, Lene. Thank you. How are sales of your new book coming along?


  9. Hedblom says:

    I vote for anthropomorphising William’s cold-blooded murderous streak: he doesn’t have to be a pre-programmed automaton to want to rip your head off – it might just be that he thinks your food value outweighs your entertainment value. I feel that way about chickens, although they do make me laugh a bit sometimes.


    • @Hedblom–you cracked me up–Chickens are vicious, immoral creatures who volunteer to be dinner! (Thus speaks the Vegan) I, too, love how William is such an animal, and is comfortable in his cat-ness.


  10. J.D.Hughes says:

    Obviously, you’ve met William 😀


  11. LISA says:

    As usual I’m impressed by the way you take something simple like snow and make philosophical points that I would never have thought of. Thanks again JD and also for the help you’ve gven me with my novel. If I was paying for it you’d be very rich by now! As for William – you describe him perfectly and I want him!


    • J.D.Hughes says:

      You’re not paying me? Our friendship if so over. Thought I’d say ‘so’ over to get down with the kids, but I’m told ‘so over’ is actually so over, so it was probably a mistake.

      I’ve sent William in a plain brown wrapper. Be careful what you wish for!


  12. Peter Davey says:

    An beautiful, thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with snow, the love being to do with aesthetics and childhood memories, the hate being the hardship, death and disruption it causes – an emotion that came to a head last Monday night when my car got stuck in a snowdrift! As you say, the stuff is merciless and undiscriminating!


    • J.D.Hughes says:

      Good to see you here, Peter… well, not actually see you…you know what I mean… This is the longest winter I remember, or maybe it only seems that way because the snow just keeps on coming and my heating bill keeps rising.

      Was Monday the night you became Lost in Lewisham? 🙂


  13. Evelyn says:

    Ah, I loved this. Very much. It made me think of the Sara Teasdale poem “There Will Come Soft Rains,” about the war that ends us all. The last two couplets (I won’t quote the entire thing here, though I’m tempted) are:
    Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
    If mankind perished utterly;
    And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
    Would scarcely know that we were gone.

    And while I suspect there are things that would notice our absence, I don’t think the planet itself would.


    • J.D.Hughes says:

      A beautiful poem, Evelyn. Thank you for posting the excerpt and for visiting.

      Despite my thoughts in the post, I have a lingering sense of knowing nothing at all. For all I know the planet may count us all out with a sigh or a laugh. Fortunately, I won’t be around to hear either. Perhaps you could let me know?


      • Evelyn says:

        “Despite my thoughts in the post, I have a lingering sense of knowing nothing at all.” Me too, sometimes. But then I doubt my doubts and think that after all, maybe I do know something. I do that for layers upon layers, like an onion. Or paint. Today I think I know something. Tomorrow I will most likely think that today, tomorrow’s yesterday, I was overly confident.


      • J.D.Hughes says:

        Imagine what it would be like not to have the ability to doubt. Being sure of everything and learning nothing. We all suffer from overconfidence, but since you know that you have it you might very well be right in occasionally knowing something. I used to know everything when I was 20. I knew a lot less by 30 and that trend has continued 🙂


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