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  • Janette Kerr Land of Ice

A paler shade of white

Updated: Jan 21, 2021


Travelling through a white landscape – snow covered, snow blowing – no horizon, no way of telling scale, apart from when I look at the road, and even that is disappearing.

My eye searches for anything that might give some clue – an insignificant detail that would usually pass unnoticed – a slightly paler shade of white that might suggests the edge of a hill or contour, or the hidden sun; a darker shade of white, maybe a rock face or more distant mountain, or just a bit of grass pocking through the snow. I wonder about what it’s like to walk in this.

We talk about the difference between a snowstorm and a blizzard; this is neither but it’s still unnerving, a kind of blindness.

It’s like walking at night in unlit places, only this is a day white-out.

I walk along the beach beyond the town, striking out inland away from the sea across large snow-covered areas, it’s hard to focus if I just look into the white expanse around me avoiding the horizon. I start to read the snow.

I notice faint changes in the surface; lines and ripples where the wind blows snow up to form ridges with blue shadows, smooth flat areas where I know the snow is thick and deep and I’ll sink in up to my knees.

A sparkle where snow is turning to ice; a harder crusty surface where it’s safer to walk; tufts of pale grass and dark rock sticking through soft snow where it’s shallow; smooth shiny translucent bluish areas of ice where my feet will slip if I’m not careful despite my crampons.

Faint pale orange tones where snow is stained by rock. Tiny particles of black sand that form white and black patterns.

Sometimes there are traces of footprints – animal, bird, human.

Often there are none.

Monday March 9 - This morning a heavy mist is covering the mountains, with blue sky and sun above, which looked weird. As I watch the mist starts to move, to show me that the mountain is still there.

It’s not snowing but the air is filled with snow sparkling in sunshine, blown up by the wind forming small eddies and whirlwinds of snow .

Flocks of tiny black and white birds are flying around dipping between the houses – I have discovered that they are called Snow Buntings. We have another storm – a strong wind blowing and the sea surface is covered in white waves, but despite this it’s still sunny. There’s a boat is sitting out in the sea, maybe waiting for the wind to die down before coming into harbour, or just seeking shelter.

I go out to draw but the wind is strong and the paint freezes and then does its own thing – better than I can do – and they don’t last beyond the photographs I take quickly before the wind can destroy it.

Tuesday March 10 – Still a strong wind and it seems even colder today – Inhaling freezing air makes it difficult to breath; snow driving into my face hurts. I can’t see much as I turn and walk north up the road; it's easier coming down towards the sea as long as I swerve right into into the studio just before the sea wall.

Snow is being driven fast across the ground and thrown into the air – although it’s not fresh snow falling, there’s so much of it lying around. I pack my sketchbook and camera and head along the sea wall to the bridge to the beach, snow streaming across the path in front of me; then I pause, the wind is so strong that it has already been pushing me towards the sea so maybe this is not a wise thing to be doing. I can hardly see across the beach; already I have disappeared from view into the clouds of snow. So I sit on the edge of the bridge beside the blocks of ice lying just below it and attempt to put something down on the paper.

This is completely mad - my hands are freezing, paint running everywhere before it too freezes, snow covering the paper and me. I try to photograph the snowstorm but this is pretty impossible too; should have brought my Go Pro out with me. In a strange way my drawing reflects what is happening in the landscape.

Time to quit while I can still move. At least I've tried. Between gusts I struggle back to the studio singing loudly to myself, remembering all those explorers who suffered far worse conditions (some survived).

Wednesday March 11. Another storm hits Skagaströnd; the wind is harsher; whistling and thudding against the building all night. Can’t see out of the windows this morning; more snow has fallen overnight and is continuing to fall. I’m literally blown towards the sea and studio, making my way by simply knowing it’s turn left out of the house and head downwards since I can’t see anything much, just the faint trace of the edge of the road and outline of a few buildings, as I plough through thick snow. I can’t hear anything but the wind. Is this a blizzard? It’s a strange experience. I think we’re on a yellow warning, maybe orange now.

It’s now 18.30 and I haven’t left the studio apart from an attempt to film the storm using my Go Pro, which I have remembered to bring, but the results are pretty useless as I couldn’t keep anything still. Here’s a few ‘stills’ from the film.

Wondering if I should go back to the house before it gets dark. I’ve been working on various paintings – they are changing hourly – a bit like the weather - either get darker or go white. I will post some up soon. When I finally leave the building together with Mira we battle our way up the road, finding faint tracks to follow, holding the ground by sheer will.

I'm ending this post with an image I really like - the sun shining on a river that flows through the snow to the sea, the water reflecting the mountain and blue sky.

There will be more days like this before I leave .

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