“How is it that the snow amplifies the silence, slathers the black bark on limbs, heaps along the brush rows?”–Robert Haight
Love it, hate it, delight in it, complain about it—it’s here. Snow. A blizzard dropped almost eight inches of snow on the western Chicago suburbs overnight this week. According to our Chicago weather guru Tom Skilling and friends, this month is now tied for the third snowiest November on record here.
A snowfall can transform the prairie in a matter of hours. Brittle grasses and spent wildflowers, under the influence of snow, become something otherworldly. Magical, even.
Trees are down, cracked and slung to the ground by the weight of the wet white stuff. On the prairie, the tallgrass is broken and smothered, reshaped by wind and weather. Snow has given the prairie sharp new geometric angles; while at the same time softened some of the rough edges.
The blizzard-strength gusty winds, greater than 35 mph, pounded snow into the bird feeders by my backyard prairie patch. As the storm slowed Monday morning, hungry birds began lining up at the feeders like planes at O’Hare Airport. This downy woodpecker, below, was working hard to get peanuts without much success until my husband, watching the bird hammer fruitlessly on the snowed-over tube, took pity and trudged outside to chip the ice off.
In nearby forest preserves and natural areas, coyotes took advantage of the weather to go for a stroll and admire their tracks.
These coyotes, birds, and other fauna of my backyard and the regional prairies are grateful for temps that hover in the low thirties. Ponds and streams, limned by snow, none-the-less stay open. Drinking water is secure. The dark open water of my backyard prairie pond is an inkblot in the bright, white snow.
Under periodic sun, the snow-sprayed prairie sparkles. It’s impossible not to marvel, especially this early in the season when a snowfall hasn’t lost its power to enchant us. Later in the winter, of course, we’ll become less captivated by its charms. Does snow have its downsides? Sure. Ask those who threw out their backs shoveling driveways, or my neighbor whose tree crumpled under the heavy white stuff and smashed her family room window. The family who is—24 hours after the storm—waiting for power to be restored to their neighborhood. Those whose flights are cancelled. The drivers who wait for a tow truck, after sliding off the icy roads.
Snow can be dangerous, and at a minimum, an inconvenience.
But, as you scrape off your car windshield this morning, or add those extra scarves, gloves, and warm layers to prepare for your morning commute, take a moment to consider the grace of snow. How it transforms the familiar to the unfamiliar. How it takes the prairie and the rest of our world by storm, then gives it a makeover.
After a snowfall, I see the world differently. The transformation of the November prairie overnight by snow jolts me out of the ordinary; gives me pause. If this large-scale transformation of the landscape can happen in such a short time, are there other transformations, less visible, that are possible for myself?
This massive snowfall, which altered everything I see around me, reminds me of how much change is possible in only a day. How everything can be renewed, on a large scale as well as small. I’m prompted to see—again—that the world is a beautiful place; full of wonder.
I needed this encouragement, here at the end of November. You too?
Robert Haight, whose thoughtful words about snow begin this blog, is a writer and environmentalist who teaches at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan. Among his books of poetry are Feeding Wild Birds and Water Music. You can read the full poem “How is it that the Snow” here.
Robert Haight is a writer who teaches at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Among his books of poetry are
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL: virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: author’s prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) at the feeder by the author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; Schulenberg Prairie Savanna with coyote (Canis latrans) at sunset a few years ago at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: author’s backyard prairie pond, Glen Ellyn, IL; wild grape vine (Vitis unknown species) in winter, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL.