Spring feels near in the Pacific Northwest, so today in celebration of The Festival of the Trees 45, I’d like to look back at snowy December 2008 as a final farewell to this year’s mild winter. (I admit to a mild jealousy of my friends enjoying Pennsylvania’s snow this season, and scenes like this or this or this or this or this.)
In December 2008 we arrived in Kitsap County just in time to experience near non-stop snow over several weeks. In our quiet corner of the woods near the Hood Canal we had upwards of four feet of persistent snow. Most days were spent performing one of four tasks:
1) Clearing the same path we’d cleared the day before (to access firewood, compost piles, and other essentials)
2) Splitting firewood and occasionally firing up the generator (food was moved to a cooler on the porch in the absence of power)
3) Pulling snow off the roof (several people around Puget Sound had trouble with the weight of snow on their roofs)
4) Getting warm (before going back out to work on another chore)
Last winter was a good thinking winter: I find that manual labor and repetitive tasks help me process ideas. Most days the heavy snow cloud cover allowed us just about four hours of light between 8am and noon. Dawn was the best, if not the only time to take pictures, so when I sat down yesterday to review my photo folder from December 2008, I realized that it is essentially composed of a series of snowy sunrises.
I reduced the following four-part selection of photos from about 75 of the original 850 images taken last winter. If you aren’t familiar with the Pacific Northwest forests, you can imagine some of the following as you wander:
Mornings in Kitsap forests are quiet, and snow days are even quieter. If it’s snowed the night before, and the hemlocks are already heavy with snow, the first thing you might notice would be the soft, cold breeze which gathers with the sunrise. It whips low clouds across tree tops, and tickles branches in rhythmic undulations. The sound of breeze is joined by whispers of snow shaking off in delicate curtains.
If it isn’t snowing at dawn, a few birds might be out to call the sun up. Brown squirrels chitter and nitter to remind the neighbors of their claims. Breakfast in the cast iron skillet on the woodstove stirs the dog. You hear his rapid, crunching footsteps along the trails through the woods. Progress is slow going on the trails the after a heavy snow, which weights down branches of rhododendron, black huckleberry, and salal into an impassible thicket. Usually the best progress is made on hands and knees using the tunnels already created by smaller animals.
Half a mile off you hear kids yelping in early morning snow-play. Snow slows but does not stop traffic in the remote parts of Kitsap. Occasional truck engines approach and fade on the ice-and-snow-packed dirt road, and you can hear a few generators humming within a mile or two. Chain saws start and stop during the daylight hours to clear roads, or grab some standing dead timber for the fire.
The air smells sweet – sharp clean snow marked with the fragrance of cold pine, fir, hemlock oils, and morning chimney smoke. Trees hold fluffy handfuls of snow. On the days of deepest snow drifts, the youngest trees are bent completely to the ground and hidden under heavy white blankets which reach up the trunks of larger trees and fold the whole winter world in around you.
Wander the woods of a winter past (to be posted throughout the day today):
In Praise of Winter: Snowy Evergreen Sunrises Part 1
In Praise of Winter: Snowy Evergreen Sunrises Part 2
In Praise of Winter: Snowy Evergreen Sunrises Part 3
In Praise of Winter: Snowy Evergreen Sunrises Part 4
Friday, February 26, 2010