Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hot and Cold

Greenhouse effect? What greenhouse effect?

It was peeing down with rain and after the monstrous heat of the summer of 95 it was almost a relief to feel cold while I was loading light lambs to go to auction. This time the lambs didn't have to sit panting with heat and travelled comfortably in the horsebox - though after listening to them bleating all night for their mothers I supposed there was still plenty of stress in the simple fact of the separation.

After the auction I smiled to see a farmer in full waterproof kit striding through the rain back to his Land Rover, bearing a brand new hay rake. They say farmers are pessimists, but things like that make me wonder! I once met a neighbour in a narrow road and as is customary we both rolled down our vehicle windows to pass the time of day and comment on the weather.

"I've just been to buy some waterproofs ready for haytime," he announced.

Now, the animals know enough about weather to put Bill Giles / Sue Charlton / Bill Kettley to shame. Fell ponies trek determinedly to the lee side of the mountain when snow is imminent. Or if they expect to be fed hay near the farm during a snowy spell, they will wait Cassandra-like at the fell gate. When the thaw is due, they take themselves off... and then the snow melts.

At the other end of the temperature scale, Chris, a large, fit and extremely physical neighbour given to shepherding in nothing more than shorts and boots during the summer, announced as I passed one steamy afternoon, "Reckon Ah need to tek a skin off."

But there are also more daft sayings about weather than you can shake a stick at. Cause is confused with effect without any attempt at logic. In early spring when the fells are still streaked with snow, it's quite common to hear Cumbrian shoppers remark, shaking knowing heads, "It won't get warmer till them snow patches go." No - the other way about - surely?

"Oak before ash, Only a splash; Ash before oak, In for a soak." So goes the proverb. Must be written in order to rhyme. I've never seen ash trees leaf before oaks. But I have seen summers with both extremes of wetness and dryness!

Likewise, the pundits who have nothing better to do than pester the local paper with repetitive letters announce every September that the heavy crop of hawthorn / rosehip / rowan berries must surely presage a hard winter. I can only say that I must live in a different country. Our hawthorns and rowans flowered profusely in 96 after 95's hot summer ripened their branches, and as a result they berried tremendously in autumn. And the winter of 96/97 was not bad enough to prevent me going to work over Grayrigg Hause with a summit height of around 1300 feet.

Likewise people write to comment on the early return of the robins in their garden, predicting a bad winter again. What the robins would say I do not know. Does anyone think that they all leave England in spring? Ours have been known to nest in the cupped palm of a rhubarb leaf. One summer it was quite normal for them to mug you when you went innocently seeking something for a totally vegetarian pudding. Did that mean winter would be here all year round? I don't think so. Their presence in my garden means that, in summer, robins among the dense foliage have got better things to do than their highly conspicuous bare-branch winter activity of telling all other robins to get the hell out of their territory. So, you don't see them much in summer, but suddenly when the leaves are down they become conspicuous once more. QED.