Embers from the Fire
A weekly blog by Deacon Dan Wagnitz for the Quad-Parish Community
First Snowfall – December 4, 2020
There is something about the first snowfall that captures the attention and the imagination. Today is our first real snowfall if you go by my Mom’s standard. She always said that it counted as a snowfall whenever there was “enough snow to track a cat”. I don’t know the origin of that statement, but I was surprised when I “Googled it” and the phrase pre-populated as I typed it in. According to several websites this is a regional saying in Wisconsin, Maine, Massachusetts, and Illinois. I always thought it was just my Mom’s as she’s the only one I ever heard use it.
Our “up north” neighbors in the Mountain area had a couple of inches of snow back in October; I know because I drove up into it when I planned to hunt grouse. It made for slippery walking but it is always intriguing to see what stories the snow tells about the animals that had passed the same way that I walked that morning – meandering deer, snowshoe hares, even tiny wood mice had left their mark. I even cut the track of a grouse and used the snow to lead me to his hiding place under a big white spruce.
But today is our area’s first “cat tracking” snow. Why does a rainy day always seem so gloomy, but a snowy day, especially when the flakes come down heavy and fat like they are today seems so pleasant? Maybe because snowfalls stir the memory. It was on a day much like this that I was introduced to cross country skiing.
My boyhood friend’s family had a cabin in the woods several miles out of Crooked Lake. That was a mid-winter snow when the fat flakes sifted down from a windless sky while we skied back along McCauley Creek Road – really just a two-track forest road – to a little cabin. I met Caroline who lived there all alone since her husband Charlie had passed away several years previously. She invited us in, fed us a delicious lunch of homemade baked beans and fresh baked bread. She told us stories of living there with Charlie including the story behind the tanned coyote hide that decorated one wall. After lunch she invited us to help her feed the birds. When she walked outside with her hands extended out, full of seed, the chickadees landed all over her. They were on her hat and coat sleeves and several in each hand. They didn’t trust us nearly as much but after patiently waiting we each had a chickadee peck a few seeds from our hands. It was my one and only visit with Caroline, but I remember it vividly – and the snow that was still sifting down as we skied back home.
I think there are at least two things uniquely magical about snow. The first is that snowflakes fall silently. Oh yes, you can get sleet or freezing rain that chatters against the windows, but real snowflakes fall imperceptively. My old college professor and mentor, Dr. Bennett wrote a poem about snow falling as “silently as a dream of silence”.
The other magical thing about snow, especially the first real snow, is the way that it transforms the world. Snowflakes bring freshness to the grays and browns of the early winter landscape. Funny how they can do that even though white is technically the absence of all color. But snow sparkles like diamonds in the bright sun, and late day shadows stretching away from the setting sun appear blue and even light purple.
The coffee tastes good today as I watch the first snowfall frosting the backyard pines. I think of my Mom, Caroline and Dr. Bennett. The chickadees are busy at the feeder. I sip and smile and listen intently to the silence – as quiet as a dream of silence.
I have written several times in this blog about the wonder of sandhill cranes and also about Aldo Leopold. The Aldo Leopold Society is hosting several free online experiences of the 10,000 cranes that stage near Aldo Leopold’s old property along the Wisconsin River. Besides the cranes they will have a presentation by a crane expert. I thought I would pass it along in case you may be interested. You can find out more at the following web address: https://www.aldoleopold.org/visit/the-cranes/?utm_source=Aldo+Leopold+Foundation+E-mail+List&utm_campaign=dd7376856b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_11_16_06_09&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e6a072d4aa-dd7376856b-138050969&mc_cid=dd7376856b&mc_eid=ca5455222b