Dust to dust

dame's rocket with shadow

Yesterday, the snow had not yet begun to melt. The cold snap that began in the middle of January seemed as though it might last forever. I made pumpernickel rye bread, darkening the dough with black cocoa and potatoes with purple flesh that turned deep blue when cooked. While the dough was rising, I circled the farm on snowshoes, looking at the shadows on the snow.

laurel shadows on powerline

My parents once spent a few months in Peru, where they were astonished to encounter potatoes of every imaginable color and flavor. Unfortunately, yesterday’s blue mashed potatoes didn’t taste anything out of the ordinary. I saved most of them for the main course — the most unearthly looking shepherd’s pie you’ve ever seen.

net of twigs

Yesterday, the snow still shone with deceptive purity. There’d been no melting to release the grains of atmospheric dust, pollen, or volcanic ash from their crystal prisons and concentrate them in a thin layer of grime on the surface of the snowpack.

dried goldenrod

Mongolia, we might be eating your dust every time it snows. We tilt our heads back and catch the flakes on our tongues, imaging the taste of distant steppes and blue mountains.

squirrel tracks

But sometimes all we get is sleet. Tell the Khan’s horsemen to ride harder.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

21 Comments


  1. You’re welcome. I was at war with myself when I wrote this, my poetic side against my scientific/reductionist side. The latter kept pointing out that we’re getting, in fact, way too much dust from the Gobi, and that it is causing the snow to melt faster in some places. What a wet blanket!

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  2. notice the weathered wood effect on photo #2.

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  3. Fantastic photos! I just read the other day how Canada ships coal to China, where they use it to run antiquated factories that spew all the carbons into the air, then blow it back to Canada!

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  4. I love all your winter photos. Especially when it’s 80 degrees in TX.

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  5. Spectacular pictures, Dave. They’re like etchings! Beautiful.

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  6. Your winter photos are eloquent. As someone who rarely sees snow, I wouldn’t have thought that a snowy landscape could speak in so many engaging ways. Thanks so much!

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  7. It’s been a disappointing day for snow lovers. But it was nice to drive with my window cracked. That’s about all that was nice about today. :-(

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  8. Nice. I like the second one, especially. Lots of interesting things going on in that one. And I like the word images, tasting Mongolia. Glad you saved the reality for the comments and left the poetic in the post!

    What kind of tracks are those in the last photo?

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  9. Thanks for the kind comments, y’all. Much appreciated.

    marja-leena – Yes, the law of karma is pretty merciless when it comes to how we treat the land. In the Appalachians, we keep things a little closer to home: coal mined here goes to power plants directly to our west in the Ohio Valley, which returns in the form of acidic precipitation (including snow).

    Gina Marie – Yes, and it saves on heating bills, I suppose.

    leslee – Those are gray squirrel tracks. (You can usually get i.d.s by clicking on my photos, which take you to the Flickr page.)

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  10. the photos all look darker, the shadows bluer to me today. Did you tweak them slightly or is it just me?

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  11. Fred – Sorry, you’ll just have to come visit. (It did turn out pretty tasty, this batch.)

    sylph – No, I didn’t do a thing. It must be your monitor — or your eyes. Are you wearing sunglassses? That might be it.

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  12. Beautiful photos — every one of them. The snow has been looking very white and tinged with blue here too. However, that’s about to change over the next few days. I’m getting psyched to start looking for snow surface creatures in a day or two.

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  13. LOVE the shadows, very beautiful pics

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  14. bev – I looked this morning, but I didn’t see anything. should’ve gotten out yesterday, I guess.

    lily – Thanks! And thanks for stopping by.

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  15. how can we live with knowledge after us? i like you choose rene char poem there.

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  16. photos too.

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