It’s a winter like we haven’t had in years — the cold, the snow, the complaining, the beauty.
The world is changed in the snow. Conifers adopt a new shape, branches lowered, holding mounds of snow so bright it makes their needles look black by comparison. The snow that dressed our spruce hedgerow at Christmas hasn’t dropped or melted yet.
Deciduous trees also take on a new look, their bare black branches highlighted with a line of white.
Even the ugly becomes beautiful under snow — the manure pile is a graceful hill, the old iron stove we never got around to junking before the cold set in looks like a castle now.
And the air changes, too, from sharp and biting cold to that sharp, humid snow smell. We’ve had snow-globe snow and tiny crystalline snow. We’ve had mornings so cold it hurts your lungs, winds so strong they bring tears and days so lovely you want to paint them.
“It’s been a winter, all right,” my Floridian husband says.
The oil man and I talked about the last super-cold winter we remember — 1987, when it stayed below zero for weeks and hit 30-below a couple of times. My husband and I remember that winter because some O-rings in our car froze and broke, a la the Space Shuttle. I think that was the same year we slid off the road in an ice storm on our way to visit a sister in Vermont.
It’s warmed up some now. But really, anything above 10 feels comfortable after a couple of weeks of sub-zero temperatures, especially if you’re properly dressed. Well, that’s my opinion anyway, and while some have argued the point, my dog is in perfect agreement.
If it’s in the teens, the dog seems to gain a new ability to smell the world and all the creatures in it. This does not help her walk a straight line or even stay on the road, but on a dark, snowy morning it’s hard to see the road anyway.
Her nose is working overtime. Rabbits, deer, turkeys, foxes and something with tiny feet are all roaming the yard and the ditches by the road, crossing and recrossing from the street to the woods to the street again. It’s all very exciting if you are a creature with a nose nearly as big as your brain.
I can smell the snow, but in the dark I can’t see what’s been around. In the early morning light though, I can see where the rabbits have crossed the yard, where the birds have been hopping, and see those little footmarks.
We add our own tracks, at home and in the woods: boots of varying sizes mostly, plus the melted circles that mark where the water buckets have been set out and moved for the animals. By afternoon, the goats and chickens have stomped out most of the prints with their own.
In the woods it’s snowshoe and ski tracks on the trails, moving in straighter lines than the dog does.
And if you look, you can see where we’ve stopped to check on the tracks of the deer, rabbits and foxes, our woodland neighbors.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Feb. 4. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.
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