After a very wet 2014 and not much snowfall by end of February 2015, we were beginning to think we’d got off lightly this time and winter was over when suddenly a huge snowfall occurred. Overnight 60cm of snow fell and kept falling for the next 3 days adding up to over 1 meter and over 1.5 meter in drifts. The gigantic amount of snow in such a short space of time meant trees and electric pylons were toppled with the heavy weight. Power was lost the first night though we were prepared for this as we often lose electricity in stormy weather so had plenty of candles, but this time the power cut lasted 16 days. What?! I hear you cry, but life without electricity is not as bad as it sounds – at least not here at Melanya Mountain Retreat. I cook on a wood burner throughout winter anyway and due to Lee’s forestry skills we had plenty of wood in, so just had to reorganise meals to fit in with daylight. Having dinner early and the fact you can’t do much by candlelight meant going to bed at 9pm was natural and as a result waking up at dawn wasn’t hard either!
Getting around wasn’t easy though and if it weren’t for our animals I wouldn’t have gone out at all. The first day I could just about walk in the knee-deep snow but the next day I had to concede as I sank in up to my bum! It was more like trying to move through quicksand so snow shoes are on the list of ‘must haves’! Using shovels, we dug down half way so I could reach their houses, check on food and water levels and remove any eggs. The chickens poked their heads out but soon changed their minds and the rabbit attempted digging but must have got cold feet as she soon gave up! The next day I dug down further so they could stretch their legs a bit more and give the laying hens some privacy and also making my access a bit easier. The apple tree over the rabbit house was so laden I had to crouch down low and I couldn’t just knock it off as the snow was frozen to the branches and needed shovelling off. I was scared to let the rabbit out as the snow was so high, having visions of her hopping over the fence and disappearing into the surrounding white, never to be seen again… so I dug out the whole pen! Phew – hot work!
We ate well for the duration as we always keep a good stock of food. The hour drive to the supermarkets means we are always at least 2 weeks in hand. The fridge was kept cool and the freezer more or less frozen with regular containers of ice from the garden, though our meals were decided by which food started thawing first. I bake my own bread and made extra for our elderly neighbours. The chickens were still laying delicious eggs and we had plenty of beer, wine and home-made rakia 🙂
The elderly and ill were also very well looked after as on day 4, a helicopter flew over and lowered a Doctor into our back garden, complete with medication for patients. The winchman’s first question was “Where are the old people?”. They were obviously running on a tight deadline with so many stranded to get to and unfortunately, they had forgotten to drop off all prescriptions for the Mayor’s wife in upper Lyubino. Lee was given the nearly impossible task of trying to battle his way up there, only a mile away but with snow so deep he couldn’t walk and felt like he was swimming against the tide, making very slow progress and exerting lots of effort. But when he eventually got there he was gratefully received as otherwise she would’ve run out of insulin the next day.
While Lee was on his epic adventure, I was also having a physical day, digging out my greenhouse. The overhang of snow was almost to the ground and looked more like a frozen wave. Pleasingly, there was minimal damage. Unlike others in our village, the structure itself was still upright and only a few panels of roof had torn with the weight but the snow was still holding together so I covered all beds below and with the help of a ‘younger’ neighbour Rick, shovelled off as much as possible outside so only a few lumps caved in. All vegetables were fine in their giant igloo. Temporary repairs held for the next fall of snow and we had time to make extra reinforcements before the weather turned to rain.
There is only one road to Melanya Mountain Retreat and without a means to communicate with the outside world, we were unsure as to the state of the road. Usually after snowfall, the snow plough reaches us the next day but 8 days later we were beginning to worry! After intrepid explorers braved the deep snow to be faced by a wall of wood, it was realised why they hadn’t reached us and plans were drawn up to attempt a start with chainsaws. As if by magic, the next morning, 3am on a Sunday, the snowplough trundled past, thanks to the army of nearby villagers who had already been cutting their way to us along the 5 mile stretch of forest track. It was amazing to see a black tarmac road after so long of nothing but white so the plans to start clearing turned into a race to town to juice up the mobile phones and contact anxious loved ones.
Unfortunately the full devastation was sad to behold. Hundreds of trees snapped in half or completely uprooted and landslides of mud and boulders – some twice as big as a car. Last year, we were upset by a bulldozer knocking down trees to make way for the tarmac road, removing the romance from our dirt road access, but content that mother nature would soon cover up the mess. This time, the vast destruction put humans into place as only a war could have had an equal impact. It will take a long time and a lot of hard work to clear up.
The same day, power was reinstated to the village opposite with the nearest mobile phone mast but without power ourselves, batteries didn’t last long. Surprisingly the electric meter reader came after a few days and said we’d be another 5 days before reconnection… I must admit I felt better when he said he still didn’t have power in his village and no water either. Most towns and villages in this region were on State of Emergency as, apart from losing electricity, the water stopped too. People couldn’t run taps, flush toilets and shops ran out of bottled water. Luckily for us, our village water comes from a natural spring and unlike our first 2 winters, the pipes didn’t freeze.
My dearest neighbour Mumun, whose wife is ill, has seen many winters like this before but his 75-year-old back was playing up and it’s hard staying upright, taking buckets of water to his cows, across icy snow that has a tendency to belie it’s real depth until you lift the other foot! So he appreciated all assistance, especially when milk production reduced because of food shortages and hay levels got critical. I collapsed my own hay cock and we helped him reach his, digging paths to them across fields of deep snow, loading up the donkey or physically carrying up the steep slopes. A big thanks to Rick for his help.
So we survived and the snow has melted to reveal how much garden fencing needs repair. Of course, now power is back on, there’s a mountain of laundry to catch up on and computers soak up so much time, but I had relished hibernating and even finished reading a book! We will get a generator though, so we can keep in touch via our satellite internet, have lighting in the evenings and recharge camera batteries 🙂