“Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful…”

Results of an ice storm in Mid-Michigan late December

Results of an ice storm in Mid-Michigan late December

The snowiest January on record for SE Michigan is over, but more snow is predicted tomorrow evening.  Not only have we shoveled the record amount of snow, but polar vortices dropped temperatures to record low highs and gave the winter wind more teeth than it usually has.

As usual I’m going to encourage you to go outside when the weather isn’t too frightful.  While there notice the way the wind may have scoured any accumulated snow drifts.  What kind of patterns exist?  Are you able to spot owls in the bare trees around dusk?  What animal tracks can be observed?

When you do come in from the cold, that might be the time to read a nature book (or any kind of book for that matter).  Start a fire, make some cocoa (or pour a glass of whiskey), and turn some pages.  Perhaps some of the following will be to your liking?

The Gift of Good Land by Wendell Berry.  This is less about nature than culture and agriculture, but Berry is a friend of wild spaces and the creatures that inhabit them.  The title essay is worth the price of the book alone.

The Living Great Lakes by Jerry Dennis.  Simply the most readable bit of written enjoyment about the region I inhabit.  History, culture, ecology, Dennis vividly brings the inland seas to your imagination.

Writing About Nature by John A. Murray.  Perhaps you’re ready to write about all the observations you’ve made.  Murray presents enough exercises to keep you busy and improve your chops for at least a year.

Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible by Ellen F. Davis.  Of particular interest for Christians and Jews, but anyone with an interest in agrarianism and what the Bible might say about that philosophy (for those with eyes to see) might like this.

All right, between trips outside and reading inside you should be busy for this shortest of all months.

"Bird Feeder"

“Bird Feeder”

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“…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.

Challenge #5: Snow!

This challenge should be the easiest to date: post a note when you have your first significant snowfall.  There should be accumulation; falling flakes that melt on contact with the ground don’t count.  On a side note: I’ve seen two great blue herons in my neighborhood this past week.  I don’t know if that can be chalked up to climate change (though the temperatures have been mostly below or at normal (mid-40s)) or just stupid birds.

Here’s hoping for a white Christmas–and a snow day before the 21st.

It ain't snow, but that's the closest I have for what's on my computer's hard drive.

It ain’t snow, but that’s the closest I have for what’s on my computer’s hard drive.