A Mind of Winter

Last month I bemoaned the fact that we had received little snow yet in the winter and that the days had been almost constantly foggy.  I wanted, I said, at least a few days of a proper winter.  Well, I got my wish.  Not long after that post, it started to snow.  The temperatures also dropped well below freezing, and so the snow stayed clinging to the trees rather than melting and falling off.  When the sun finally came out (as it does when the colder temperatures arrive) the result was a perfect winter wonderland, with everything glittering and shining in the cold sunlight.  This was the winter I had been envisioning.

Sun and snow

Then, at the beginning of January, it started to snow again.  And this time, it just kept snowing – a fine, thick, steady snow – for nearly two days straight.  We ended up with about a foot and a half of snow in one snowfall (on top of the snow that was already on the ground), the most snow seen at one time in this region for many decades.  I’m fairly sure that I have never seen that much snow at one time before, and I could not stop exclaiming over it.  And luckily, I enjoy shoveling snow (just as I do raking leaves), because there was certainly a lot of that to do for a while.

Finally there was enough snow to go snowshoeing in again, not just in the mountains, but right in our own backyard.  If you want to truly appreciate the snow and get an idea of what a challenge it is for the local wildlife, try walking in the deep snow, with or without snowshoes.  Even with the shoes, breaking that first trail through the freshly fallen snow was not easy, and made me marvel at how local animals like deer and coyotes can survive in it.  There is such a strong contrast here between summer and winter – summers are very hot and dry, with a constant threat of forest fires, and winters bring months of cold and snow.  Any animals that live here year-round must be adaptable and capable of surviving in some incredibly diverse and challenging situations.

Snowshoeing

Since that amazing snowfall, the snow has been slowly melting, settling, and falling off the trees.  The days have been warmer and cloudy (though thankfully not foggy).  We are still in the depths of winter though, and last weekend we went snowshoeing on a frozen lake.  This was the first time in my life that I have walked on a frozen lake, and it was at first an eerie feeling, to walk knowing that below my feet were metres of water and fish swimming around.  Apart from a few ice-fishers, the lake was quiet, and there were no other tracks of people on the island that we walked out to.  The clouds hung low that day, and my photos give the impression of a rather desolate landscape.

Frozen winter lake

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves.

— Wallace Stevens, from “The Snow Man”

I do not think that I will ever have what Wallace Stevens calls “a mind of winter.”  Although I can find some things to enjoy about this season and come to some appreciation of its place in the yearly cycle, I think I will always prefer spring and fall – the liminal seasons of change and transition – to both winter’s cold and summer’s heat.  Now that I have had my few days of “real winter”, I am already starting to look forward to the days when I will see the first signs of spring on the landscape.

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