Yesterday’s afternoon cleared up briskly to reveal not only blue skies but the first substantial snowfall on the Prato Fiorito which is 4625 feet high and just behind us.
The Refubbri waterfall on the way down to Bagni was cascading with rapidly melting snow:
Crossing the bridge at Borgo a Mozzano revealed the main Apennine ridge, which is around 6000 feet high, covered with snow. The effect at sunset when the snow turned into a rosy hue was so beautiful.
As happened with perhaps the coldest winter in living memory in the UK, that of 1946-7 when temperatures dropped below minus 20 degree centigrade, things only really started to get cold at the end of January.
We are in the thick of “i giorni della merla”, the days of the blackbird, when the coldest part of winter hits us between the last week of January and the first week of February. Strictly speaking, the days of the blackbird are the last three days in January. So the weather has been true to traditional prediction.
There is a local legend about this which was told to me in Italian. As a fun thing to do I’ve turned the Italian prose into English verse!
Snow upon snow fell on the whitebirds’ nest –
the winter had never been so cold.
Beneath the eaves the bitter chill compressed
their little lives exposed, unconsoled.
“If it carries on like this,” daddy bird moaned,
“we’ll nevermore see the spring again”.
“Our little ones will soon die,” the mother groaned,
“so very soon, but who will know when?”
The parents tried to pick a few crumbs of bread
before they too were hidden by snow.
Their feathered hearts were filled with iced-up dread.
while a hard north wind began to blow.
“We must decide now or die” the parents said.
“Let’s move our nest near that chimney pot;
while I go and hunt for food you stay in bed
and keep warm next to that cosy spot”.
So all that day mummy bird and her three chicks
kept by the stack which blew warmth and smoke.
What clever birds they’d been to think of these tricks:
free all-day heating for avian folk!
But when the father returned, beak-full of food,
he didn’t recognize his wife and kids;
the smoke had made all their feathers quite, quite dark-hued
from their tails right up to their eye-lids.
“No matter,” he said, “we’ll rename ourselves.
From now humans will call us ‘black bird’
and goblins and nymphs, sprites and wood elves
throughout the land will spread this new word.”
And so it was that the birds survived the freeze
and that now the whitebird is black;
and I’m sure it’s all, as everyone agrees,
thanks to that useful chimney-stack!