It has been a dry winter here in the Colorado Front Range. To date, our snowfall is 81% of average and 64% of 2011. Temperatures have been a few degrees higher than normal. Most of the days this January have felt like early spring. Global warming or just a natural cycle? Who the hell knows. My vote is a cycle compounded by global warming. What I do know is that I miss the tranquility and process of snow.
I love spring; the shy auditions of cinquefoils, the bold expression of insect hatches, and the artistic composition of sounds and smells. There is a lightness in emerging and the sense of having survived. I look forward to it every year. This morning, however, while reading Barbara Kingolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (www.AnimalVegetableMiracle.com) I was reminded that what we appreciate in spring are products; the end results of overlooked natural contributions. We regard winter’s, and specifically snow’s, unseen benevolence as a time of inactivity.
Winter is typically thought of as a time of rest. The temperature drops, down comforters make their annual appearance, snow falls, and the crack of logs burning in the fireplace signals a time of quiet. (OK, a bit Norman Rockwell, but you get the idea.) Yet underneath the snow, sandwiched between our shroud of inattention and the circle of life, millions of small processes are preparing the world for the explosion of Spring.
Snow provides a layer of insulation protecting soils from cold, desiccating winds and shelters soil dwelling organisms. These little guys play a significant role is helping to recycle soil nutrients, such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous, from dead and decaying plants and animals. The freeze/thaw processes that accompany changes in temperature contribute to aeration and water drainage. Winter is not the poetic death, instead it is a precocious period of preparation.
So, this Spring, when rejuvenation seems so automatic, stop and thank your new friend winter for all the hard work. Oh yea, and pray to Ull for snow.