Winter Thoughts: Svaneti

I’m alone for a few days in this big house, like a single peanut left in a jar, with my wife off visiting family in Kakheti and doing some top-up purchasing for our shop. More time to think about what winter means in a small mountain village, far from the nearest proper plumber, car mechanic, vet or other occasionally vital service person. From my notes:

—There is a certain shade of blue formed by light coming through thick snow at any distance, even up close; it also sometimes turns up in snow clouds on the mountains around us. For me it’s a color of death, death by relentless, searing, uncaring cold. I must capture it in my camera sometime.

—Some roofs hold the snow far too much, due to friction from paint or construction of slate or wood. One ordinary winter may be enough to doom them to a cave-in, if they are not shoveled off, an arduous task. Thankfully, our house and barn are roofed in galvanized metal which, combined with heating from inside (the cows’ bodies are enough), lets the snow slide right off. Don’t stand too long under such a roof, you might get a dump down your neck! (Usually it comes in small increments, but once a whole roof’s worth came down in one go, and this would have buried someone; at least it was on the north side of the house, where no one stands under it anyway, with no doors there.)

—Our garage roof, however, although of the same material as the others, keeps a lot more snow than they do, simply by not being heated. I tried putting a 100 watt bulb near the inside top of it, but its heat made little or no difference. If we ever heat the garage a little, this should be enough to let the stuff slide as it should.

—I have yet to see an avalanche up here, live, with my own eyes. I definitely have heard them, though: a few days ago the “mountain wall” south of us, completely invisible in fog, began a minutes-long roar which could only have been millions of tons of snow crashing down. Utterly destructive of anything in its path. Fortunately, likely because they know too well, no one lives there.

—I wrote the notes for this article by candlelight, as electricity up here continues to be affected by snowfalls such as we have had recently in abundance. At such times we are thankful for our massive wood-burning Svan stove, hand made of thick steel in Zugdidi, made just for these conditions. At least the secondary water pipe system, I bought and installed when our underground pipes froze early, is still working under all that snow, with the near-freezing temperatures now warm enough for it to flow well. Another 100 watt bulb left on at the pipe’s entry to the house keeps that sensitive area from freezing too. One tries to keep positive when the electricity’s out, and to have things charged, candles and matches ready in known locations; but there is nothing like the relief when the shuki returns, signaled best in my house by a beep from the microwave... Always glad that the majority of the house is well insulated, with my own many layers of clothing doing the same for me.

—We haven’t yet bothered to use the gasoline-powered generator in a power failure; the only thing we would really need to switch on after much more than a day off would be the one fridge which is in a warm room. And the longest outage we’ve had has been less than that.

—If the power goes out briefly, say for a few minutes to an hour or so, it’s most likely due to someone needing to do a local renovation, switching off the connection to their house and a few others. If it’s off for longer, there is more probably a fault needing attention for the whole village supply.

—On these outages, one has to wonder, how much of the regional budget is for our electrical infrastructure’s supply, maintenance, repair and upgrade? Because it’s clearly not coping, especially with the long winter.

—When my wife is away and I’m on shop duty, I am reminded most forcibly that this endeavor and the gifts necessary to doing it well are hers and not, by any stretch of imagination or desire, mine.

—A frustration far more serious than it sounds? Simply, snow sticking to the shovel instead of flying off when you jerk it. HATE that!

Ah, the musings of Svaneti’s longest season.

Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1250 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

Tony Hanmer

21 January 2016 22:09