Goshen News, Goshen, IN

February 2, 2014

OUTDOOR COLUMN: My feelings about snow have changed over the years

Goshen News

---- — Snow was for sledding when I was a boy, often on a layer of hard-packed snow on the streets of the town where I lived. Snow was for making snow angels, laying on my back in the soft white stuff, moving my arms and legs out and in. It was for making snowmen when the snow was wet enough to stick together, and snowballs and having snowball fights. It was for digging into a pile, hollowing it out and making a snow house. Snow was for skiing.

Snow caused school delays, which were always welcome. Snow caused school closings, which were even more welcome. Christmas would not have been Christmas without snow where I lived when I was a boy.

I liked snow when I was a boy. The first snow of the season meant the beginning of winter, and all those winter activities I enjoyed. In school, my classmates and I even made snow. Folding a square piece of paper, we cut lacy designs, then unfolded and we had snowflakes. True snowflakes are six-sided, but what we made were close enough.

I used to think snowflakes were jots of frozen water. They’re not. They’re really frozen water vapor. Further, they are not all lacy. Some, though also six-sided, are solid. Still others are shaped like tiny balls, columns, cups and needles.

Along with believing that all snowflakes were composed of frozen water, that all were six-sided and lacy, I was often told and believed that no two snowflakes were alike. Then I had a statistics and probability course in college, and learned that if there is an infinite number of something, and the probability of two of them being the same is infinite, the ratio of the number and probability is one, which means it will be.

My opinion of snow and of winter has changed. I no longer have a sled, and haven’t been sledding in years, not since my own kids were young. Nor have I made a snow angel since I showed my kids how, or a snowman, or a snow house. I still shovel snow, but I don’t like to and I don’t get paid for it.

I don’t dislike everything about snow. It does make beautiful scenery, particularly when it covers not only the ground, but every leafless tree branch and turns evergreen trees into towers of white and green. It makes birds, except snowy owls, more easy to spot. When there is snow on the ground, more birds visit my bird feeders, sometimes including a visitor from farther north, a red-breasted nuthatch, pine siskin or redpoll.

Then there are tracks in the snow. Tracks in fresh snow tell me when there was a deer, or more than one deer in our yard or pasture during the night. Tracks from a tree in the yard to my bird feeder tell me a squirrel visited the feeder, though I didn’t see it. I haven’t seen a rabbit in our yard in some time, but this winter I’ve seen rabbit tracks in the yard.

I haven’t seen a fox in ages, but this winter I’ve seen fox tracks in the snow. Looking at tracks in the snow, following tracks in the snow, is something I did and enjoyed as a boy that I still do and enjoy.

One more plus for snow: When the wind isn’t blowing, a blanket of snow creates a stillness, a quiet. Go out, particularly at night, when the temperature is low and there is no wind, when there is no sound of traffic, then stop and listen and luxuriate in the silence, the peace.