Nighttime on Still Waters

Night Swimming (After the snows)

March 12, 2023 Richard Goode Episode 117
Nighttime on Still Waters
Night Swimming (After the snows)
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Curl up with us tonight as we enjoy the warmth of a cosy cabin as snow gives way to sweeping rain and our stove glows brightly in the gathering darkness.

Journal entry:

10th March, Friday

“The convocation of oaks rises to my view
 From a swirling mist of snow and blown spindrift.
 Their trunks wrapped white.
 Icicles hang from their branches.

I want to say,
 “Don’t worry,
 Spring is on its way.”

But they know that.
 They have known that before I was born
 They have known that for centuries.
 What can you tell trees that they don’t know?”

Episode Information:

In this episode I briefly refer to the following:
 Christiane Ritter’s A Woman in the Polar Night originally published in 1938 and republished by Pushkin Press in 2019. 

Tom Hennen’s Darkness Sticks to Everything published in 2013 by Copper Canyon Press. 

With special thanks to our lock-wheelersfor supporting this podcast.

  • Mary Keane.
  • Arabella Holzapfel.
  • Rory and MJ.
  • Narrowboat Precious Jet.
  • Linda Reynolds Burkins.
  • Richard Noble.
  • Carol Ferguson.

General Details

In the intro and the outro, Saint-Saen's The Swan is performed by Karr and Bernstein (1961) and available on CC at

Two-stroke narrowboat engine recorded by 'James2nd' on the River Weaver, Cheshire. Uploaded to on 23rd June 2018. Creative Commons Licence. 

Piano and keyboard interludes composed and performed by Helen Ingram.

All other audio recorded on site. 

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 10th March, Friday

“The convocation of oaks rises to my view
 From a swirling mist of snow and blown spindrift.
 Their trunks wrapped white.
 Icicles hang from their branches.

I want to say,
 “Don’t worry,
 Spring is on its way.”

But they know that.
 They have known that before I was born
 They have known that for centuries.
 What can you tell trees that they don’t know?”



This is the NB Erica narrowcasting on a freezing March night to you wherever you are. 

The temperature outside is approaching -3 (26.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the water's surface is becoming glazed with skims of ice. The cold nips at nose and ears, so come inside. The stove is on, the welcome is warm, the kettle has boiled, and a seat is waiting for you. I am so pleased you could come. Welcome aboard.  



It seems like it has been a long time since I was lasting talking to you. Last weekend we were up in Norfolk with Dad. It was a lovely time. We were aware that the weather was turning and that much colder weather was on its way, so we were a little anxious about leaving the boat too long. While boats can be fairly easy to keep warm, if you don’t, they can get cold very quickly. However, when we got back she was surprisingly warm and needed only to light the stove and we were roasting!

The latter part of this week has heralded a spell of much wetter and stormier weather with snow, sleet, and rain. There is a fair bit of standing water in the fields and the towpath in places is flooded.

In some ways, it is this time of the year that can be the hardest on a boat. The normal daily and weekly chores, emptying waste, disposing of rubbish, filling water tanks, as well as less frequent ones like cleaning the chimneys, are certainly less fun in sleety-rain or biting cold - however, personally, I still prefer it to the blistering heat. Chatting to other boaters, it is clear that winter fatigue is beginning to set in – particularly after a relatively mild spot that really felt like Spring – no matter how many warnings the old weather lore and almanacs would give about mistaking early warmth for the real thing! I don’t think it is anything new. Some of the old nature writers seemed to express similar feelings. I remember being struck by the Austrian artist Christiane Ritter’s amazing account of her winter in the arctic in her 1934 book A Woman in the Polar Night. In it she describes, with such a beautifully understated and light touch, the challenge but also the beauty of surviving the darkness of an Arctic winter in the inhospitable high polar landscapes. She shared it with her trapper husband and his colleague (who had many seasons of polar winter experience behind them). What was interesting was that the hardest time, not just for her, but for her husband and trapping partner, was when the light returned. As hard and as challenging as the darkness, with its sensory deprivations that led to auditory and visual hallucinations, as well as near starvation, it was the margin between darkness and daylight that was the most dangerous and seemingly hardest to psychologically deal with. It was then that she – as well as the two men – began to make mistakes (at that latitude small mistakes that could easily be lethal), to take short cuts. To rush the seasonal tilt.    

With the coming of the snows, I fully expected the ducks to congregate back into the large groups that they created over winter. However, as far as I can see, they haven’t. There is a little posse of them a little further up the canal, but this morning, even in the midst of the snow, they were not to be seen. There are a few around the boats here, but the pairings seem to have, largely, been decided and they seem content to plough their own furrows through the water and make their own ways as couples. If there were a big freeze, perhaps that would be different.

The other day, as I was emptying our bins, I was aware of a pair of eyes watching me. I looked up, and on the hill overlooking the rubbish point was a young lamb. Scraggy fleeced and inquisitive. This year’s lambs are being born into quite a cold and stormy old world. 



It’s snowing.

Not like yesterday. A night of sleety rain has washed most of the accumulation away. But first thing, the snow returned. Filling the hollows between the grass and thistle tussocks with a wet white that reminds me of sodden cotton wool. That untidy snowy hinterland, before it becomes thick enough to create smooth sweeping contours, when everything looks fresh and new and different. It’s like when you are icing a cake and you’ve not quite made enough icing and you try to spread it so thinly that cake crumbs begin to appear and, no matter how much you try to smooth them out, they’re there, visible. The sort of snow that highlights imperfections rather than covers them. Even the dead willow-herb stems next to my elbow look dishevelled, their rusty leaves drooping in limp soggy wads.

I sit here for a while and watch the snow fall. It is much more sheltered here. Up on the hill, under the conclave of oaks, the Warwickshire wind was as raw as toothache. My face burning with icy wind-blown needles. Here, the flakes spiral and drift on lazy eddies. They taste sharply metallic on my tongue. I try to catch the moment a flake touches the canal water. But it’s not easy. Each flake turns almost transparent just as it is about to hit the water.

The snow is easing. Things are in thaw. Although there is a rime of slushy ice covering the horse’s water, it’s not really freezing. Beads of water hang from every twig and leaf and winter-shrivelled fruit. Crystal globes that sparkle with their own effervescence on this soft-grey morning. There’s a constant drip from the vegetation that chinks in light splashes like a silver teaspoon on a bone china cup. There is something bell-like and soothing about the sound.

But I am experiencing a strange feeling of fracture or disjunction – a sense of being torn in half. I try to put my finger on it.  

There’s an almost constant sound of aeroplanes passing overhead. As soon as one passes another takes its place. Initially, I tried to wait for a gap before I started recording. It was impossible. Besides, the whole spirit of these sections is to capture what I am hearing in real-time, warts and all – not some idyllic soundscape, filtered and polished, that has never really ever existed. But it’s not the intrusion of noise that bothers me. The easterly wind is carrying the sound of commuter traffic which makes it a little louder. But again, it is not so much the noise itself but my physical response to it. My heart rate, the helter-skelter speed of my thoughts as they flash through my mind is lock step with the speed of the cars, the invisible thread of airlines above the clouds. And yet, at the same time, the slow plink, plink of water drops falling into water, the lazy skurl of snowflakes lifting and tumbling within this sheltered nook of a canal among fields and woodland, I also feel the pull to keep time with them too. A gust of wind fans along the canal. The unhurried grazing of the horses who have come down to share the stolen peace of this shelter.

They are totally in-tune, in step, with the dripping world around them. One of them looks up and stares at me for a while. Then turns and gazes, as if lost in thought, down the field. There are two filled hay nets attached to the gate by the bridge. The smell thickly sweet of old summers and harvests gone.

The canal is choppy and alive. Its surface bevelled and dimpled like old fashioned glass beer mugs or tankards of hammered pewter. It’s much higher too. The square concrete slab that is usually at the water’s edge is quite a long way in. There’s been a lot of rain and run-off this week. In places, sections of the towpath are completely flooded.

A pair of mallards, male and female, slip into view from behind a tangle of bankside bramble. The male, dives under water. Disappears for a little and then resurfaces breaking the surface into lumpy crystals. He shakes his head like the big kids did when they used to jump into the deep-end of the swimming pool. The female treads water as he rises up, flapping his wings and then the tail wag. Water and snow meet in arcing cascades. I watch them prescribe a slow circle. Unhurried, in step with the dipping ice and the slow snow, and then quietly paddle back the way they came.    

The traffic continues, but my heart and mind are beginning to find older more important rhythms with which to dance.





This week the snow came on a stinging easterly wind. First the glass bell tinkling of graupel. It rattled off the cabin roof and rolled along the gunnels. Not quite snow. Not quite hail. Not quite wet. Not quite dry. Undecided, tentative snow. The young blackbird’s first song of spring. It lay heavy on the soil, falling through the grass-blades and bankside greenery. Glassy. Almost white. Not quite. If it wasn’t for the cold wind and the trees still shy in their catkinned nudity, I might have been tempted to mistake the world outside my cabin window as the aftermath of a summer hailstorm. ‘Gosh!’ I would say, ‘It looks just like snow, outside.’ Although it doesn’t quite, and we would laugh and silently long for cooler weather that wasn’t quite so sultry and sticky. I’d try to remember the wind’s nip and the trickle of a snowflake that lands on the back of your neck and the surprise that such a small splot of ice can seemingly release such huge quantity of water down between your shoulder blades.

For a while it lay on the ground as if someone had sprinkled the marble chips that are sometimes laid around gravestones in cemeteries, Carrara white. The wind whipped and bit. The rooks rocked in their shipwrecked crows’ nests. The tennis-ball round heads of the females just peeking over the top of the snaggle of twigs – swaying, windswept, buccaneers of the winds – sailing the racing clippers of the rolling hills. Beside them, often, their partner would be perching; surfing the branches as they buck and toss. Every now and then, they’d partially unfurl their great ragged-black wings to steady themselves. What magnificently wild symphonies of wind-song their unhatched young are being born to. No wonder they have no fear of the gale’s kick and bluster. No wonder there is such ferocity in their exhilaration of flight.

And then the snow came, flying on the back of an easterly wind. It wasn’t dramatic. It wasn’t a blizzard that turns the day into a tumult of white. Just a persistent falling. Snow on snow. Gradually, imperceptibly, new lines in the landscape began to emerge. Hollows and dips, smoothed out. Ragged hedgerows transforming into expertly sculpted plasterwork walls. Even busy roads ran with a layer of slush, taking the form of the old untarmacked cart-tracks of older times.

I missed most of it. When I came back, the snow was turning to sleet. Icy spears of rain interspersed with thick feathery wet-wads of snow that made a ploink sound when they hit the water. And then, after the snow came the rain. 

And so, in the fading light of the study, I sit at the desk and listen. Listen to the rain fall. Sweeping in gusts along the cabin roof. It’s warm and cosy here. The stove casts a crimson glow in the corner. From time to time, scarlet flares and dies. The warmth and the sound of rain is soporific. A mug of tea steams on my desk. I should put on the desk lamp, but I don’t. There is light enough. And anyway, who would want to stop the shadows grow as they do every evening. It is right that they do and are to be welcomed.  

I watch the rain streaking across the portholes, oblique slashes. They hardly have time to stop and trickly down in watery tadpoles. Slanting lines writing in a language I cannot read, but somehow understand. Or, at least, tonight, I feel I do.

The wind buffets and I can hear the stern canopy flap and complain. The fenders creak. The calendar in front of me swings gently from side to side.

What are the crows and rooks doing now? Are they up there in their castley turrets? Do they chunter and purr like the ducks do at night? It’s now too dark to see if I can glimpse any ducks outside. The night has crept up on us. Slowly, imperceptibly, like the building of this morning’s snow. And, before, I realise it, I am sitting in darkness. Just the ruby glow of stove in the corner. The darkness makes the sound of the rain clearer – not necessarily louder – just more obvious, clearer.    

I should put on the light. But why? The sound of the rain on the cabin roof, its sigh on the windows is light enough. I can see all I want to see – all I need to see – by its hiss and thrum. Let’s let the night wrap around us. Flood into the cabin, pooling first in the corners. It reminds me of a line from Tom Hennen, 'Night doesn't fall, it rises.' And this night flowing so effortlessly, so gently, through the boat rises upwards to welcome us. Afloat in the night. Swimming the night. Night swimming.

Is that what the carp are doing beneath us? They are all the unknown, unnamed fish – the fry grown old, the tiddlers and sticklebacks. Like us, night swimming.

Outside, the lights of a neighbouring boat bleeds onto the water – alive, awake. An oily soft shimmer of a yellow amoeba that never emulsifies with the water upon which it is borne. It too, in a way, is night swimming.      

I wonder where the swans are. They weren’t around when I got back. I can imagine them, nestled together, wherever it is they go, their necks snaking back, their beaks tucked under their wings and the whole watery night around them dissolving into the swimming darkness. I can imagine them. Among the flag blades. One eye closed.

The darkness here grows thicker. Thick enough to bear our weight. To make us buoyant with the night-time. The coals settle in the grate and a flash of scarlet and orange. Then back to ruby and port red. From time to time there is a crystal plink as water drip in pearly droplets from the gunnels into the canal.         

What are the horses doing on the hill by the oak tree convocation? I imagine they have found shelter down by the canal-side hedge. Shaggy-maned stoics. They know their terrain, the best spots to stand. They read the land. Horse wisdom. Silently, placidly, living the land. Owl-wise. Flowing with its contours as the rain does. Standing together silently in the dark – night swimming – in the rain that followed the snow.

Who better to share this darkness with? To listen to the rain, its voice, its writings and the beat of the heart of something greater to which we belong, on a night, by the stove’s ruby glow, when the world became silent in the cabin of a boat floating on darkness -night swimming.  


This is the narrowboat Erica signing off for the night and wishing you a very peaceful restful, warm night. Good night.


Journal entry
Welcome to NB Erica
News from the moorings
Reference to Christiane Ritter
Tuesday Morning, 5.30am
Cabin chat
Night Swimming (After the snows)
Signing off
Weather Log