Step out into the garden, and the countryside beyond at the moment, and you’ll find snowdrops doing what they do best in January – piercing the barren earth, colonising grassy patches, nestling under trees and marching across gladed hillsides. Untroubled by unseasonal weather, their inner clocks direct them to grow, multiply, and cheer us all up in an otherwise gloomy, un-festive sort of month. That’s Nature for you: ordered, seasonal and predictable.
But Nature has another face. Come with me beyond the garden, past the fields slickly shimmering with surface water, to the banks of the River Ure. Just two minutes walk from here, it makes a wide sweeping curve away from its route from West Tanfield, and (normally) meanders gently into Ripon. That was before this winter, this rain, this unending water.
Once the rains came, and once it reached town, the River Ure rather wanted to swamp people’s gardens and make a bid to enter their houses. Recently-built flood defences put paid to that idea. The River Ure took its revenge on us, or more specifically, on the farmer whose fields adjoin us. Up in the hills, waters from streams and rivulets in the Dales cascaded into the Ure, which gushed and surged along its course, rising higher and higher, tearing at the banks, ingesting great clods of earth and forcing them downstream. The water levels are falling now. The damage remains.
Look. Here’s a chain link fence which marks a pathway running along the edge of the farmer’s field. It should be on terra firma, with a nice grassy margin between the fence itself and the river bank. Now it has nothing to hold onto. The bank has been snatched away, and the fence is hanging crazily and directly over the swelling waters below. The earth has slipped, and continues to slip. The farmer is losing his field, and the river is changing course. There’s not much anybody can do about it.
We’ll watch the water awhile, and frighten ourselves witless at the prospect of falling in and being swept mercilessly away. Then we’ll wander back though the woods, and enjoy the snowdrops and aconites once more. Nature takes its course.