15/12/20 I have been waiting three years for hoar frost. It was at the top of my list when I started writing my seasonal treasures in December 2017; but there was no hoar frost that winter, nor the one after. This year it came early, on 8th December. With the mist and cold that day, it was still going strong when I went for a walk at lunchtime.
I often think hoar frost is prettier than snow. I definitely prefer it. Seeing snow when you open your curtains in the morning can feel exciting, but I also find it disturbing: a familiar view becomes unfamiliar. The world looks, sounds and smells different, and you don’t know how long it will be before it returns to normal. You feel slight disappointment if there is not enough snow and it turns sludgy by mid-morning; but if there is too much, you face the prospect of disruption and cancellation of normal daily life. This can be fun for a few days, if you manage to enter into the spirit, but it can also be problematic and unsettling.
Hoar frost is different: my enjoyment of it involves no ambivalence. The winter landscape is still recognisable; it’s just prettier. It is a morning gift that needs to be enjoyed promptly as it rarely lasts more than a few hours. The geometric ice formations seem miraculous and if you stare at them long enough – it is hard not to – you can almost create in your mind a time-lapse video of their growth.
Nevertheless, I did experience one moment of confusion on my lunchtime walk: I passed a frosted blackthorn hedgerow on a field near The Hobbets, which for a moment caused me to think we had skipped to the month of March, so similar did the frost look to blossom at a distance. I’m not sure if I was happy with this momentary illusion, or disturbed by it. My seasonal treasures have been so effective that I would never, now, want to skip winter. But this year, for reasons entirely unrelated to the cold and dark, such an idea does have its appeal.