February 28, 2010

Winter's Beauty and Fierceness

Some plants are just designed for snow. A grove of White Spruces display a horizontal motif on the Drake's Creek train in the White Mountains. Now, as we reach the end of February, the transition of seasons cross over and blend. One day, it's winter, the next, it's spring, then, winter grabs hold again. Here in New England, it is very noticeable, and it's what makes these next few months of transitions more about "seasons' than season, for we may end the snowy season, soon it will be the ice season, the black fly season, the mud season, a time of snow squalls, ice storms, balmy days, and before long, vernal pools and spring peepers. Until them, we take each day as it comes.

This weekend, I snowshoed in the most incredible conditions that felt more like those wheels of images in my older brother's view Master of Yellowstone in winter than it did of northern New England. If you can't tell yet, I love snow, and I love winter.

Near the summit of Jenning's Peak in the White Mountains of New Hampshire after a week of unusually strong winter storms.

Ice on Balsam Fir trees on the wind blown summit show remarkable patterns of crystallization, albeit in a horizontal manner.

I was planning another hiking trip this weekend, but when Thursday's huge storm hit, I thought that I might not go. For it was fierce.

Last Thursday was an odd weather day.After going out to dinner in Providence after work, I drove home north, one hour, I watched some Olympics, I went to bed. Around 1:00 am I was awakened by a sound not unlike a summer thunderstorm. It was very windy, with winds so strong that I thought that I was dreaming at first, with 50-70 mile per hour winds the tall spruce trees outside of my bedroom window we're leaning at an angle nearly breaking. I could hear large trees cracking in the back yard, and dropping with loud thuds. In the end, we lost two dead American Elms that narrowly missed the duck coop, but broke a fence in the back yard requiring the dogs to be hand walked until today when the fence was repaired.

Strange weather is not uncommon in New England, home of the perfect storm but this one was strange and odd, and I was wondering if the hiking trip I had planned in the White Mountains of New Hampshire might be cancelled since 350,000 residents had lost power with the storm, and more snow was expected in the higher terrain. Regardless, I decided to persevere and keep my commitment and not cancel. Out of the fifteen people who decided to participate, only six of us showed up in the snow.

My hiking bud's making their way up some of the steep trails.
The hike required snowshoes, and lots of gear since the weather in the White Mountains can change at any moment ( the highest recorded wind speed ever recorded on earth was on top of Mount Washington in 1934, it was 231 mph, in this same area). But fierce was not what I experienced, instead, something magical happened. I met my group after driving through heavy, heavy snow that was drifting down in a peaceful fluff, the sort of snow that sticks to every branch, twig and bud making the very steep snowy hike beautiful, yet difficult since the snow was unbroken and deep, and to make it more challenging, the hike was extremely steep in the deep snow, and the trail markers were hidden. Regardless, we all knew that we were experiencing rare beauty, and I will remember this hike for a lifetime.
My friend Jon stands looking into the blowing winter wind admiring the view from a look out on the trail.
The forest was quiet, but the top of the mountain brought strong, icy winds, and frost covered Balsam firs with horizontal ice crystals that stung as they hit your face. Mother nature has designed these northern growing evergreens so well, that although they look painfully frozen, the ice within the needles actually protect the branches, and the heavy snow at lower levels safely cling to the flexible branches. If these we're landscape plants in a garden, the native species wouldn't break, whereas the Chinese imported species seem to always snap. In the same was that imported species generally get nipped by early frosts in New England, yet native species emerge later.

Still, the snowdrops are coming up and the witch hazel's are late, but almost in bloom at home!


  1. That first white spruce photo is jaw-dropping (and they are all wonderful). Interesting fact about the native evergreens withstanding the heavy snow vs. the imported ones. I admire your sense of adventure... down south everything shuts down if we think we MIGHT have 1/2" of snow. ;)

  2. What a great post!. I too, admire your sense of adventure. What a great way to see nature's beauty. I'll bet it's a workout. I love to hike, but, let the temps be a bit warmer!

  3. Matt, what an incredible hike, beautiful pictures....each storm has been unique here.

  4. Wow, that is amazingly beautiful. It looks so cold and so pure. I live in the sunny Southwest and can't imagine hiking through snow like that. Thank you for sharing your world with me =D


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