I love life in the mountains. I’m drawn to the sense of immediacy of nature up here. It demands respect and I relish giving it its due.
Each evening I check the weather forecast. If sub-zero temperatures or snow are forecast, out I go to wrap up the car in its half-car cover. This way, in the pre-dawn light of the following morning, I can just shake off the snow, bundle the cover into the house and head off down the mountain with the snow-scraper left unused in the glove box.
It’s important to save that time. These days, I can no longer go down the aptly named “Rue du ravin” – Ravine Street – because its steep pitch is now too slippery to travel safely with the snow and ice on the road. So instead, we creep our way in first gear around the internal contours of our “village on a horse shoe bend” in a detour that adds at least 5-10 minutes.
And then I have to navigate the turns down into the valley gingerly too. I’m very conscious of having never before driven on snow, and I’m sobered by the fact that I’ve doubled the challenge by adding mountain roads and dark mornings. So I’ve tried to learn the basics through watching a few online videos.
The opening line of the first one was “If it’s snowing, ask yourself ‘Do I really need to drive?’” Hardly reassuring for someone trying to convince themselves it’s an everyday activity. So I’ve taken very seriously its advice to gently break well before the corners and then to inch your way around at a steady pace. I’ve also been following the lead of the locals. The ones who decorously descend the snowy roads, that is, and not the ones who literally blew me away by overtaking us at the top of a winding mountain road, in the falling dusk and on the snow.
But I love this feeling of becoming a mountain woman. A women who drives down snowy hillside roads as her school commute, who has skis propped up in the corner of the dining room, whose pair of waterproof insulated boots sit under a bench covered by beanies, neck-warmers and gloves, who has to make sure there’s always some extra food stashed in the freezer and tins in the cupboard for the possibility of a snowbound day.
And then there’s the subtleties of the mountain-valley inverse weather to learn. I’ve been caught out a few times. Here in our high altitude village, the day can dawn sunny and bright as the sun rises above the clouds, while the valley below is left soaking in the moist mist. Leaving the house dressed for sun and arriving in the damp of the valley floor can be a clothing mistake that can make for a chilly day. I’m now mostly mindful of this possibility, and step out in my growing collection of checked woollen jumpers ready to descend into the clouds.
As I write, Silas is playing with a toboggan in the backyard. It’s been snowing on and off for most of the last 24 hours. Usually when I sit down after lunch to try and write he cuts and parries around me with his wooden sword for a while, and then comes up and asks when I’ll be finished. This afternoon, immersed in snow play, he’s left me to write uninterrupted as Delphine naps.
Perhaps the romance will wear off. Perhaps I’ll tire of having to get up early on snow-days to creep my way down the mountain. Maybe I’ll have enough of judicious breaking, forbidden revving and having to follow in the tracks of other cars. The car cover could become one hassle too many. I might feel a desire for more spontaneity.
But for now, I like pretending that I’m “Nancy of the mountains.” My alter ego: a wise judge of the weather, boy scout prepared, confidently striding out of the house in alpine clothing that’s seen many a winter. Isn’t that what travel’s about after all? Being a different version of yourself. So for another four weeks I’ll expertly manage the heater settings, break on the straight and stay in the same gear, arrive at school with snow on our car roof and don my Norwegian woollen jumpers with pride.