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The Snow in my Garden

So far this winter we've had around 100 inches of snow — more than double an average winter's total. Lots of "poor persons' fertilizer": every snowflake brings useful elements in the dust speck it crystallized around.

It started so heavy and early, there was no chance to put the garden to bed. So I'm grateful for the cover, hiding dead leaves and stems. The smooth expanse of white is broken only by trees — and big shrubs, which I don't have many of. Maybe some holly bushes....

The deep snow itself fascinates me. The paths cut by the snowblower, with their vertical walls reaching up to my thighs, have become channels of familiarity, isolated in an expanse of strangeness. Not even animals are making tracks through those depths.

Under the snow, I am sure the field mice (also called voles) are busy. In summer they eat grass, plant stems and leaves; make surface runways through grass; and tunnel underground to eat plant roots. In winter, they do not hibernate, but dig tunnels in the snow at ground level, and eat mainly bark. I bet this deep snow hinders their predators. For example I can't imagine owls plunging through to reach them. We may see more trees succumb to girdling this spring.

When the decorative lights beside the steps to our driveway first became completely covered, Ward called me outside one night to see their light shining eerily through the snow — and illuminating the steps just as effectively.

Plants benefit from the translucence of snow. Mulches that prevent light from getting through may keep the soil warm, but plants can die from lack of light. When snow accumulates on the ground, there's a lot of air in it: excellent thermal insulation — but light gets through.

To see for myself, I pushed a 12" x 24" sheet of Plexiglas into the side of a snowblower path. Then I dug out the snow under the sheet, leaving some on each side to support it. There was about eight inches on top.

Lying down on my back in the path, I squirmed my head into the little cave. The place indeed was lit from above: not bright, but noticeable. What surprised me was the color: a pale greenish-blue. Not at all the color of the sky.

I wished I had a larger snow cave, that I could crawl entirely into. In that gentle turquoise light, I felt awed.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 7 March 2003

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For more information
  • National Weather Service. When I couldn't find this year's total snowfall on this siteI called the Taunton Station. They said they closest locations they had totals for were Worcester (97.7") and Concord, NH (73.8"). I decided we were probably close to Worcester's figure. If anyone closer to me in Townsend keeps track of this total, I'd like to hear about it.
  • Sunflower Stalks Trap More Winter Snow, Soil — a report by, Market Intelligence for the World's Agriculture Industry
  • Estimate your soil moisture, By Cheryl Rainford, News Editor of Agriculture Online
  • Winter Signs, an Environmental Education Guide from Glacier National Park.
  • Snow Days, a page for schoolchildren, by Charlotte Overby, with illustrations by Mark Raithel. Delighful descriptions of subnivean life. From the Missouri Department of Conservation.