Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snow diamonds

With the exception of New Year's weekend, the temperature here has held below freezing for weeks and weeks, during which we've had multiple snow dumps adding up to 3+ feet. Most of that time has been overcast and often windy -- making, altogether, for a some serious winter.

It also makes for the best of winter, for two reasons.

First, the snow is powder, which is light to shovel and easy to plow (and a dream if you're a skier). One appreciates this after many winters spent scraping up the equivalent of wet cement, or skidding on ice as impenetrable as concrete.

Second, the snow remains crystalline, and that makes for breathtaking beauty when the sun -- and moon -- finally come out.

Two nights ago, the clouds parted to allow a half moon to bathe the white-robed landscape in silver gleam that thousands of snow bits caught and reflected like summer fireflies. The following morning, below cloudless blue, the sunrise caught more diamond points and lit the day with sparkle. When wind came up and lifted the powder, the very air glittered.

Conditions are right only a few days each winter, if at all. So it's hard to mind the season when it turns the world into a visual wonderland.

Carolyn Haley

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Here comes the sun

A new year is born -- both on the calendar and in the natural world. The dates fall about ten days apart but announce the same change.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, and especially in the northerly climes, it's hard to think of birth in the middle of winter. But this is the point where gardens begin each year. As day length increases, plants and creatures begin to stir, or at least change their behavior in subtle ways. Under the ground, roots, corms, and bulbs are processing themselves for the upcoming growth season. Aboveground, birds change their songs -- for example, by New Year's Day I'd heard the chickadee's spring call for which it is named ("dee-deeee") -- and early breeders have started courtship. Meanwhile, the seed catalogues are rolling in, allowing humans to start planning this year's garden.

I am a daylight junkie, so I count the returning minutes of light after the solstice. It creeps in asymmetrically: for a week or two, daybreak comes later while sunset seems to stay the same. But then we start to see more light on both ends of the day, and its pace of return accelerates.

On the official winter solstice, we had 8 hours and 51 minutes of daylight. Since then, we've gained 10+ minutes. So few, yet already perceptible at dawn and dusk. This starts and ends each day with joy, and helps keep my chin up during the three months of cold, snow, and ice still to come.

Carolyn Haley

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