“The problem with winter sports is that —follow me closely here—they generally take place in winter.”–Dave Barry
It’s been a few days since the snow-pocalypse here in the Chicago suburbs. Prairie streams and lakes exhale steamy clouds of change. The thermometer free-falls toward zero, then cycles back toward thaw. Everything is covered in white stuff.
Deep snow makes hiking the tallgrass trails more difficult. But worth the extra effort it takes.
Snow plows fling impassible tall white palisades along the highways and streets. Those same snow plows caused me to mutter frustrated words as they passed my driveway this weekend, slushing it with a dirty wintry mix as I shoveled. I felt like Sisyphus. Shovel out. Snow falls. Shovel out. Snow plow goes by. Shovel out. More snow falls. Repeat.
If there was an Olympic gold medal for snow shoveling, I’d be a contender.
And yet, how can I complain? At last! We have our necessary winter snow. We’ve been below our average snowfall all season. Made up for it in one glorious February weekend.
Sure, it stings a little.
But love it, hate it, we need it. Snow helps moderate the Earth’s temperature. It melts; adds much-needed water to reservoirs and lakes. If you brushed your teeth this morning, ate something grown by a farmer, drank a glass of water or made a pot of coffee, then snow matters to you.
A substantial snowfall makes everything—including the prairie—a little brighter in February.
Here’s a fun word: albedo. It’s a measure of how much sunlight is reflected by snow back into the atmosphere. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (yes, there is such a center!), snow reflects up to 90 percent of sunlight. Simply put, this reflected solar energy helps cool our planet.
Snow insulates. It conserves moisture in the prairie soil, then keeps that moisture from evaporating.
Aesthetically, snow reminds us of the beauty of prairie plants. Provides a background for us to admire their architecture. Like this Joe Pye weed.
Snow reminds us that the prairie is home to many seemingly invisible creatures who share the world with us. Their stamped luge chutes and prints deboss trails through the tallgrass and savanna.
Here in the Chicago suburbs, weather forecasters say the piles of snow will melt by the end of the week. Difficult to believe today, looking at our world of icy white.
Enjoy this event while it lasts. Even if the price of admission is some heavy shoveling.
Miami journalist and humorist Dave Barry (1947-) received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1988 for his “consistently effective use of humor as a device for presenting fresh insights into serious concerns.” Barry often chronicles the strangeness of the state of Florida and aging in his 30-plus books; many of which are good cures for winter doldrums. Take a look here.
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Willoway Brook tributary, the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; East Side prairie planting along the Northern Europe Collection, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: probably late figwort (Scrophularia marilandica), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) nest, Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; February on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; February on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) tracks through the snow, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; visitor (Homo sapiens) hiking the Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.