Inside the Snow Globe of Winter
Snow drifting under the door and north facing windowsills this morning were my first clues that today would be like none other so far this winter.
The powerful storm sweeping over New England didn’t get started at the Harvard Forest until the wee hours. When I went to bed at midnight I was disappointed nothing much was happening.
That all changed by this morning. When I first opened my eyes, there was something odd: the windows were…white.
The white out at my windows was quickly explained by the sound of the wind, roaring through the trees, blowing curtains of snow through the air. There was so much wind blowing so much snow, it was hard to tell what was falling from the sky, and what was just swirling around.
I rousted the cat and we both padded downstairs to see what was happening outside. Out front, in the pasture, it was hard to tell how deep the snow was, the drifts were so uneven. That’s when I saw the snow on the doormat inside the door, and on the insides of the windowsills and thought, so: This is what a blizzard looks like. I layered up to go out, and headed into the woods.
It was still snowing hard. The flakes cruised across the pasture in great billowing sheets, like the filled sails of a tempest-tossed brig. The snow was so fluffy the snowshoes weren’t much help; I sank to my ankles, the snow poofing over my feet like whipped topping. I marched on, knees pumping high, to make progress into the drifts. I wanted to go see the big oak.
I found it robed in softness, its trunk sheltering hidey-holes between its thick roots. I wondered what lives might be slumbering in there, under the snow, and even tunneled deep in hibernacula underground. Some animals, such as frogs, will actually freeze solid deep in the duff, reviving from their torpor come spring.
But up here, out in the snow, I saw no animal tracks anywhere, and heard no birds at all; the storm was still too active for any animals but a curious human to be out and about. So I lay back in the softness, to just enjoy looking up into the oak, watching the snow sift and drift through its broad, reaching canopy.
The forest sounded different today. There were more creaks and groans and cracks from the trees. Not because of cold, it was 18 degrees, so it wasn’t the temperature. No. It was the wind.
Big gusts kept rocking the trees; the snow was not settling on their swaying branches. It’s one reason the forest didn’t reveal the foot or so of snow already fallen: the trees were swept bare by the wind.
Yet how peaceful it was deep in the woods, with the trees taking the brunt of the wind. I walked on, the feathery snow inviting a sliding gait. I was boating, really, the snow combing in breaking waves off the prow of my snowshoes.
The offices as the forest were shut down by the weather, but the Woods Crew was hard at it all the same, valiantly clearing the parking lot and wagon roads. “Cleaning,” they call it, and it denotes their relationship to snow, working to keep the rest of us all snug and safe. Harvard University is shut down today, but not the trails at the Harvard Forest. They are open 365 days a year, for free, thanks to the Woods Crew, keeping the parking and trail access roads clear.
By late afternoon, the snow was still coming. And I thought, watching it swirl, how very grand to be here, inside the snow globe of winter.