“…Snow on snow…”

Yesterday was the winter solstice, so that means here in the northern hemisphere daylight will eke out a tiny bit more time everyday. Perhaps paradoxically, that also means that the temperatures will stay lower and snow will begin to accumulate in the northern climes if it hasn’t already.
Southeast Michigan has had some cold days and nights and about four inches of snow in my neighborhood, though it’s down to about one on the ground due to the rain from the last two days.
This month’s challenge is about solid water aka snow. If you live far enough north (or south) you should see some falling during the winter months.
Water in itself is a fascinating substance. When H2o molecules bond, they form 105 degree bonds which allows for quite a bit of molecular space. What does that mean? Simply put, solid water is less dense than liquid water–hence ice floats. Check it out the next time you put ice in your beverage.
Turkey(s) in the snowFor snow to form you need two things: atmospheric moisture and temperatures close to freezing. I guess some people have said that it can be too cold to snow, but that’s nonsense. As long as there’s enough moisture in the air, snow can form.
Most snowflakes are less than a 1/2″ across but some can be as large as two inches (I always called the larger, fluffier flakes “goose feathers”).
Snow is white because the way that the ice crystals form there is a relatively large amount of surface area to reflect sunlight and visible sunlight is white. However, in glaciers, blue is a prominent color, and in deep snow too.
When you go outside to explore the snow this month pay attention to your voice and other sounds. Snow absorbs sound, so your backyard and neighborhood will have a different aural quality if enough snow falls.
As I’m reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my eleven-year-old daughter currently, I learned that a blizzard, which engulfed the town the Ingalls lived in, by definition is a heavy, blowing snowfall that lasts for at least three hours. The Ingalls and neighbors endured three days of blizzard  sometime in the late 19th century.

White pine seedling in snow

White pine seedling in snow

If, in your travels in the winter, you happen to get stranded or lost, dig yourself a hole in the snow. Snow happens to be a good insulator and the layer closest to the ground is usually around 32 degrees, which is still cold, but it could be warmer than the 25, 18, or 3 degrees above the snow pack.
Another wonderful thing about winter is the ease in tracking animals. The nature of snow allows for evidence of birds and mammals to be left behind for you to follow or attempt to investigate what kinds have been around.4302872146_ee4d9cc484
So, ignore the cold (safely), play in the snow. Track animals, build a snow cave, pack a snowball. Go outside.


To the wonder

IMG_1072I can’t make this month’s challenge any easier: Go outside and explore!
We’re on the cusp of a new season–the Autumnal Equinox occurs in the northern hemisphere on Sunday–it’s the perfect time to see the blurring of seasons.
Goldenrod is probably at peak blooming right now (honeybees have only a few weeks left to gather pollen and nectar), maples are hiking up their chlorophyllic pants, nuts are dropping making a mess of sidewalks, you get the idea.
My neighbor’s birch tree has about 20% of its foliage turned yellow. Apples are in season (finally!). I was surprised by mosquitoes today.
What does this fading summer and blossoming autumn look like in your neighborhood? Go out, look around, and report. Maybe I’ll even send a prize to the first person who reports something. Give me at least three sentences to be considered, however.

Hey, Bud…

It’s March which can only mean that the white-knuckle grip of winter is loosening (though for the southern hemisphere, it’s on it’s way in three months–which I’m curious, by the way, what’s it like to celebrate Lent and Easter during the fall?).

So, the light endures longer, the temperatures creep up, the wet soil exudes odors once again.  March is a month on the edge–balanced between winter white and spring brown.  Robins have been spotted in SE Michigan as well as sandhill cranes.  I haven’t remembered to check for them, but one might be able to spy snow fleas bouncing near the base of trees.

This month’s challenge doesn’t require any identification skills–though you still might want to employ them–go outside (of course) and submit the date when you notice the first buds sprouting.  These buds (or in times of dearth–a bud) can be from some irises you planted (yes, I’m forgoing my chauvinism for all things native for this month) or from the tree you identified back in the fall or last month. Simply make sure it is a new bud and not a seedhead left over from last summer or fall.

What you might not know about tree buds is that if you have neighbors who keep honeybees, those bees, providing they survived the winter, will be out searching for nectar found in those tree buds.  Sometimes maple, certainly basswood, but many trees are one of the earliest sources of nectar for honeybees here in the north at least.  Oh, I almost forgot to tell you to look for snowdrops, usually the earliest of the wildflowers to appear–almost always before the vernal equinox.

There you are, readers.  I’ve given you another opportunity to go outside, explore your ecosystem, and sharpen your ID skills.  I’d love to see some posts about your first sightings of spring in your neighborhood.  Let me know.


You shouldn’t see trillium blooming in March in Michigan, but it’s the only photo of mine I have from last spring still on my hard drive.



Were you able to ID any naked trees?  It certainly helps when you know what the tree is when it’s “clothed.”  Did you spot any with the beginnings of buds on them?  A couple of maples down the street from me have buds that will probably burst out late next month.

Most people appreciate a tree that crowned in glory with leaves, but there is something attractive about a naked tree.  Perhaps it is that it can’t hide any of its shape or branches.  Possibly its the contrast of the landscape with the stark, muted tones of the bark.  A snow or ice covered tree can be otherworldly if you take the time to observe.  Whatever it might be, try to get out, enjoy the last of winter and notice some details in the arbor.  Before you realize, spring will change the colors, textures, smells, and sounds around you.

The Maple that survived Death Storm 2013.

The Maple that survived Death Storm 2013.