After the storm

big grate in snow

How can you call it a storm when it’s so quiet, and when the world grows lighter, rather than darker, as the snow piles up? asks a newcomer to the northeast. It’s the wind, says a native, who has recently moved to a city so used to winter that the residents ride bicycles in the snow.

black birch snow ring

The wind spins around the trees like a pole dancer, leaving rings as wide as bicycle wheels.

squirrel hole 1

Snow may evoke erasure and forgetfulness for us, but it doesn’t stop the squirrels from remembering where they buried each of their hundreds of acorns. In the depths of winter, scientists have discovered, gray squirrels not only mate, but they also eat like gourmands, savoring every bit of a nut after the often laborious struggle to disinter it from the frozen ground. Snow turns these arboreal acrobats into divers.

tuliptree seed clump

The aptly named tuliptree catches snow in its dried seed-cups until they spill over. The slightest breath of wind is enough to scatter the whole banquet.

laurel crosses

Fifteen inches of snow is enough to almost bury the shortest mountain laurel bushes. Leaf clumps protrude from the snow in the shape of Iron Crosses, as if a small division of German soldiers had perished here.

laurel shadows 1

The cirrus clouds grow thinner and thinner, until by late morning the sun shines brightly for the first time since the storm began two days before. Now the snow is a screen for shadow plays with a simple, incremental narrative arc.

Norway spruce in snow

Little sunlight penetrates the spruce grove, where the snow is still making its way to the ground.

snowshoes

I walk bow-legged on webs of rawhide, in hoops of ash wood. There’s just enough snow to make it worth the effort to break trails for snowshoeing. After only an hour, muscles I haven’t used since last winter begin to register their complaints. Unlike walking on water, no faith is required — only patience, and the willingness to sink.

To view all the photos I took yesterday, click here.

28 Comments


  1. This is a spectacular post. I envy your snow and your snowshoes. Beautiful photos, Dave.

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  2. I enjoyed the post, Dave! It’s nice to hear of people enjoying our wonderful snow. I tire of people complaining about winter and the cold. I think it keeps us rural folk fresh. I went sledding down a snow covered street in sleepy Bellefonte before the plows came Tuesday night. (Actually, the plow truck turned the corner just as we finished our run!)

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  3. Wonderful images that very much capture what it’s like after the storm, but each is also a little masterpiece on its own. The webbing of your snowshoes looks nicely woven!

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  4. nice photos dave. I ‘m going to quibble with the cause of the circular depression around the base of the tree…I’m pretty sure it’s caused by the heat given off by the tree, not by wind. Dark bark absorbs and radiates heat.

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  5. I particularly like the skeletonized leaf shot on your flickr site. Wow!

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  6. Pica – Thanks, I’m glad you liked.

    Gina Marie – Bellefonte seems like a great place to go sledding! Glad to hear you were able to take advantage of it.

    I guess our fellow Pennsylvanians aren’t going to stop bellyaching about winter weather anytime soon, though, what with all the news about the horrendous mess over on I-78, and I-80 too, I guess. (I blame the state police. Why the hell didn’t they close the exits?)

    bev – Thanks. The rawhide is beginning to fray in a few places, though, as you can probably tell from the photo. I don’t know how many more years they’ll last. But maybe I can figure out how to mend them, if it comes to that. The frames are sound and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t last forever.

    q.r.r. – It might help if you looked at a closer view, or compared it with the less-perfectly formed ring around a bigger tree. Most of the trees within a hundred feet of the woods’ edge had drift rings around them on Thursday morning. That was right after the storm ended – much too soon for melt rings to form.

    Of course, my description of the wind spinning around it like a pole dancer was a little fanciful. I don’t know if my poetic license has a clause covering hyperbole or not.

    Peter – Thanks – I liked that one too. Just couldn’t figure out how to work it into the post.

    m-l – Thanks. I guess I’m over my jealousy of you folks up in Vancouver now!

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  7. The photos are lovely (especially the laurel bushes and the tulip tree).

    But they detract somewhat from the wonderful text, which is like a breathless report from the Front.

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  8. I am envious of those 15 inches of powder. It’s so beautiful and inspirational. The landscape changes so completely. Your meditation is a perfect match to the snowlit scenery.

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  9. Teju – What, do away with my writing prompts? Can’t have that. Beside, I actually prefer the photos. Without them, I’d bore myself – which, as you now know, would violate my cardinal rule of blogging.

    r.a. – Thanks. Fifteen inches was an estimate, of course – with all the drifting on the night the storm ended, I’m not exactly sure how much we got. Dry, yes, but not all powder – some six inches or so came down in pellet form, which made for a really dense snowpack. But with the temperature hovering around 20F the whole time, we didn’t get the freezing rain other places got. And of course freezing rain is beautiful too, but so destructive…

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  10. Dave your pictures are exquisite, along with the descriptions.

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  11. Beautiful photos, Dave. They capture the quietness very nicely.

    We only had ice, stunningly beautiful, but hard to photograph. So many trees were split right down the middle with the weight of it. I wonder how well those that were bent, but didn’t break, will recover.

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  12. I don’t know, Laura; your photos seemed to capture it very nicely!

    We had a third expression: two inches of snow, followed by three full inches of sleet.

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  13. yes, i think you’re right.

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  14. Another wonderful photo-essay, Dave! It makes me realize that I need to get out more during this inclement weather period; I tend to stay home and read!

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  15. A really fine post, Dave – those iron crosses and what you said about them were the highlight for me, out of many high points both visual and verbal. And thanks for the link.

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  16. Laura – We’ve had plenty of devastating ice storms up here, the most recent just two years ago. That one bent a red cedar tree nect to my house almost to the ground. In the spring, I got it more or less upright with ropes and eyebots into the side of the house.

    Peterv- That sleet can make an interesting surface once it hardens. We felt lucky that we got more snow on top of the sleet that fell here.

    Larry – Thanks. yeah, I understand the temptation. But winter is the best time for walking, I think.

    Beth – Thanks for stopping by.

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  17. Of course your poetic license covers hyperbole, the clause is right between rhetoric and metaphor!

    Seriously, gorgeous photos — I’d never seen mountain laurel that way before. On the flip side, I just spent a couple of hours (at a guess) chopping ice off my parent’s walkway. (Even got a blister to show for it.) Here in NY, it wasn’t a pure ice storm (no diamond-coated trees :-( ) but it was close enough to lay about 3 inches of ice/snow composite over sidewalks and such. So when my parents ran out of rock salt, there wasn’t any to be had in the stores….

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  18. The tulip clump burst me into tears,
    nearly. Please don’t apologize.
    It was lovely.

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  19. Dave — I haven’t visited your blog for a long time. How could it get better? It did. Your photography is special. The storm saved me $17.70. I had to drive to Harrisburg on Friday to interview Jeff, and I didn’t have to pay a toll.
    As I write, it is snowing, and the juncos are loving it.
    Keep on blogging.
    Phil

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  20. Lovely post. After the storm I went cross-country skiing for the first time – almost as much fun as sledding! Thanks for the link – do you agree about the wind?

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  21. David – Won’t they let you throw down wood ashes? I think that works much better than salt, and it’s not as toxic to the surrounding vegetation. O fcourse, people do track it indoors and stain thier carpets…

    Bill – Whatever, man. I guess I’m happy to know my work can provoke such a strong response!

    Phil – Hey, thanks for dropping in! Glad to hear I’m not stagnating. That’s pretty cool that you managed to cheat the Turnpike Commission out of all that money. That’s $17.70 that won’t go toward completing the Mon-Fayette boondoggle.

    Kat – I don’t know if I agree that wind makes a storm. I have no problem with the idea of storms being quiet and white. I’ve known people like that.

    I find I really don’t enjoy x-country skiing that much. It’s too much exercise. My glasses fog up and then freeze, forcing me to take them off, and then I can’t see anything.

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  22. Wood ashes? I’m not sure their fireplace even works! And they live in deepest suburbia, so there’s no obvious source. I was actually thinking about sand, but I doubt they could have found that at the time either. They did get hold of some salt the next day, which I used on the heavy floes I hadn’t been able to chop.

    PS: I’d originally come over to deal with Mom’s computer troubles, which took a second day to sort out. Oy vey, Windows sucks mouse balls! ;-) OK, I can get she’s scared of Linux (though in fact I suspect she’d have a much easier time with it) but I wish she’d at least get a Mac!

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  23. I’m glad to let you know of this photograph’s power to move me. I apologize for my goofy, joshing comment. I get comment fatigue. I just can’t always take an hour and work up a comment, which is still likely to be quite incoherent, yet I do not always wish to be silent, particularly when moved by great beauty (or whatever it is that this photograph has).

    I see a lot of images. A lot. I suppose everyone does. The pity is that I can’t describe this ones peculiar capabilites in a way that would make it clear to you what I think you have achieved, artistically I guess. I don’t think I’m entirely indiscriminate in what I respond to. Wish I had been and were now up to the task of give this image what I believe to be its proper due. And that my praise could somehow be meaningful and supportive, rather than confusing and dubious and ,in a word, spurious.

    I don’t suppose you would find it necessarily a good thing when I like your poems overly much either. I am far from the ideal reader. I do think I am somewhat better versed (ha!)at images, though, than poetry. But there again I’m sure my responses are to a large extent personal and singular. Dave, what do you think about an incoherent audience member who finds your work on regular ocassions to be a figment to best most any grievance or trouble? And has trouble saying so. That’s a rhetorical question. Gee it’s hard to put it in words when stuff is great.

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  24. Nice post. I was playing around this morning with photos I took of bare bark and snow yesterday, but haven’t had time to post them. There’s something calligraphic about it, like brush strokes on a white page.

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  25. Bill – No need to be self-conscious. Sometimes I have trouble taking praise — criticism is much easier — but I always appreciate your responses. And if you’ve seen the kind of comments I typically leave elsewhere, you’ll know I’m very prone to say things like “This is great!” and I liked this” (because if i didn’t, why comment?). Most of the time I read blogs late in the day, when my brain is tired, so I don’t have a whole lot to say the way I would first thing in the morning.

    Leslee – Calligraphic is the word, all right. I took some more pictures of that sort this morning (and was glad I got out – it had clouded over by 11:00, and they’re forecasting warm temperatures starting tomorrow).

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  26. There is also something I find very moving about a solitary form against a deep background. I have had the same emotional response to a Missouri photographer of some seed heads of grasses on fragile stalks on a very remote and dark background. On the other hand he has created the sexiest photographs I have ever viewed which are of mosses, plants, insects, leaves in the ripeness of summer.

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