A Walk in the Snowy Woods

     “Whose woods these are I think I know.”

     Actually, I don’t know. 

     According to the deed, these woods on the slope below our house belong to my husband and me.  But I certainly don’t feel I ‘own’ them.  Standing in the hard-edged holes my feet have made in the crusted snow, I marvel at the quiet that I can hear only when I stop walking.  I feel nothing at all akin to ownership.  Instead, I feel I am being allowed into a sacred space, one larger and more wondrous than anything I ‘own.’  That line from Robert Frost’s poem ”Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” rings soothingly, but it also reminds me how preposterous is the idea of owning these–or any–woods.

     After just a few moments of standing still in the snowy woods, the forest is filling me,  feeding me.  I take in the sky, the trees, and the snow all around me.  The sky is blue, barely.  Not a deep, bright New Mexico blue, but a pale, winter Virginia  blue. 

     The sun is shining for the first time in days.  In the morning sunshine, the tall, bare trees are stretching southward from their bases, extending along the surface of the snow in long, grey streaks.  A tangle of young, thin trees commingle on the snow to create an undifferentiated mat of grey.

     I crunch on down the hill to sit on a fallen tree, bare of snow.  And I make plenty of noise getting there!  With the snow on the ground for so long, through high winds and melting, walking has become an unpredictable affair.  One step may end on top of the snow, while the next may send my foot crashing through the crust, down seven or eight inches.  I lurch along, making my way unevenly.

     Sitting on the downed tree, I look around at the snow.  It’s dirty.  Although this forest is too far from the road to be blackened by soot or car exhaust, the snow here has lost its pristine, new-fallen look.  All about me the snow is dotted with tiny bits of debris–a dried whorl of pine needles here, crumbs of organic matter there.  I surmise that these bits have been blown here–tiny pieces of bark loosened from trees, wood dust from woodpeckers’ drilling, shreds of brittle pine cones, all thrown  up the snowy hill by howling winds from the west. 

     I notice another curious thing as I sit.  Here and there I see slender dents in the snow.  Each one, about an inch wide and a couple of inches deep, cradles a twig.  And each dent is shaped perfectly to match the twig it holds.  How could such small twigs have made these dents?  Surely they are much too light to have dented this crusty snow when they broke off from a tree above.  I am puzzled, especially since my own weight does not always dent the snow.   

     This question reminds me of another curious thing I have noticed in the days immediately following every major snowfall this winter.  An empty space soon appears around each tree trunk, so that every tree is standing in its own tiny ’clearing,’ devoid of snow.  At first I wondered if trees, living beings that they are, exuded warmth, even a slight warmth that might be enough to melt the snow with which it is in immediate contact.  But then I also noticed that even the stone statue of St. Francis is surrounded by his own little snowless ring.  Even if a tree exudes heat, a stone statue doesn’t.  What then?  I am still stumped. 

     As I sit pondering, I hear a pileated woodpecker calling from the south.  Its call grows louder as it approaches, and I wait for it eagerly.  Soon the bird flaps into view, and I ogle it until it disappears again, its call fading into the north.

     I sit smiling, so happy in these woods that are too wild and free for anyone to own.–April Moore  

the forest under a clear sky

the forest under a clear sky

trees casting their shadows on snow

trees casting their shadows on snow

bits of debris on snow

bits of debris on snow

 

      

 

 

 

a tree in the middle of a snow ring

a tree in the middle of a snow ring

snow dented by a twig

snow dented by a twig

7 Responses to “A Walk in the Snowy Woods”

  1. Jim Z. Says:

    Love this!

  2. Todd Says:

    Hi April, Ah, the snowy woods! What a delight! And lucky you to live among the trees.
    Allow me a hypothesis re the twigs’ “dents” – that being dark they do absorb the IR rays of the sun much more than the snow, which reflects most of them back upward. And so on days which are sunny and not too cold, thier warmth can radiate to melt the nearby snow, especially that snow in direct contacts with the twig. Test: See if you can notice this phenomenon in an area of permanent shade, say in the shade of the house. Please let me know what you find. Best, Todd

  3. Gail Says:

    Thank you for yet another snowpeace piece. My back yard is fenced in with a “privacy” fence. This morning my Risty-cat wanted out in the 19 degree weather. So I put on his leash and let him out the door and heard the snowpeace in my back yard. No wind and about a half of the yard is bare. Risty rushed out and then paused and started sniffing everything in sight. Five minutes later I heard his meow announce that he was ready to stop and come in. So I opened the door for him. It was still snowpeace outside. He rushed to his bown to crucn up some energy.

    Would love to hear other snowpeace happenings.
    Love…

  4. Jim Cummings Says:

    beautiful!

    and yes, though not toasty like your wood stove, trees and even statues (and twigs) have mass that keeps them warmer than the cold winter air, so snow will tend to melt close to them, especially once any sun comes out at all….

    I’m very pleased to have rediscovered your blog in my maze of bookmark folders, and it’s now back in its rightful place in one of my tab sets that I view at least once a week. So lucky me!

  5. April Says:

    I am intrigued by Todd’s suggestion that because the DARK twigs lying on the snow absorb more heat than the WHITE snow, the warmer twigs cause the surrounding snow to melt. Brilliant! I wonder if Todd’s hypothesis also explains why a bare ring forms around the base of trees, with the surrounding snow seeming to ‘pull away.’ But then, it’s still a mystery as to why a white-colored stone statue would also sit in an empty ring. Hmmm. I wonder!

  6. Tanya Says:

    Thank you, April, for such a beautiful essay. It’s almost enough to convert a beach and sun lover into a snow lover!

  7. Caroline Says:

    Concerning your last comment about the circles that also form around white stones or statues, maybe it also comes from the material of these statues, which is porous and thus absorbs and captures heat and light, getting them warmer that the environment around, causing the snow to melt? Therefore, it would not only be a dark color matter, but also a porosity matter or something of the kind… But, this is just an idea :-)

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