Monday, 1 December 2014
Something fairly amazing happened here this weekend: On Thursday, we had record high temperatures, but then the weather changed and on Saturday morning we woke to snow.
Two things happen when it snows here:
The first is that drivers panic, and with some good reason. Our mild temperatures mean wet snow that packs into a layer of ice, and day-time thaws in sunny areas followed by night-time freezes can turn our streets into asphalt skating rinks. When you combine that with the fact that, because we have so few snow days each year, few drivers here buy snow tires, you get some fairly spectacular results.
Wise drivers choose to stay off the roads as much as they can on snowy days, making the busy streets outside my home much quieter than usual. That quiet announces the presence of snow before we even look out the window. We are always grateful for it.
The second thing that happens on a snowy day is that people go outside. We know that the snow will last but a few days before the rains return, and we want to enjoy the landscape's brief but oh-so-beautiful transformation. Parks are busy with children at play, and walking trails see a lot of traffic.
The trails are still quiet, though, in the early light of a weekday morning and, although the centre of the trail has been well travelled, the snow on either side is largely untouched by human traffic. It tells the tale of forest creatures coming and going across its expanses; the story narrated in footprints of birds, deer, raccoons by a pond, and even this morning a single bear, who made his way up the steep hill beside the trestle, used it to cross the river and then headed down the hill on the other side.
Most of the forest near the trail is coniferous. The broad fans of evergreen branches catch the snow and the needles hold it, making layers of white and deep green that follow the contours of the hillside in a rhythm; a Christmas-card-perfect picture of winter.
In places there are alder groves, their silvered trunks rising from the blue shadowed snow like swift brush strokes on watercolour paper, ending in branches as delicate a tracery as lace.
Near the water, the cottonwoods crowd, their bare branches holding the snow as they reach out over iron-grey water.
This morning I hear the high pitched scree scree of two eagles calling to one another from the tree tops. Their white heads and black feathers make effective camouflage in the winter scenery. Even following the sound of their voices, I'm unable to distinguish them amid the snow and branches.
Content to know that they are there, I cease looking for the eagles and carry on along the trail, my patience rewarded by the sight of a magnificent, white-headed giant, soaring along beside me at shoulder level as it follows the course of the canyon below.
On my way home, I pass by vineyards, the grapevines bare and sculptural now; black twisted arches marching in rows across rolling white fields. The yards are edged by willow, its yellow ochre twigs standing out against the monochrome of snow.
In a sheltered field near the road, a flock of swans are breakfasting on the grass beneath the snow. They've chosen a spot where the snow layer is thin but, even so, they blend with the landscape. Were it not for the soft grey cygnets among them, I might not have noticed them at all.
Overhead, great flocks of geese pass by on their morning commute from inland fields to estuary. They are growing in number now, our year-round residents joined by their migratory cousins, with vees that sometimes number close to a hundred. They're flying very high this morning, far enough above that I can't hear their calls but near enough for me to admire their swift-moving silhouettes against the pale blue and shell pink of the early morning sky.
I'll continue to enjoy the flights of geese and swans as they wing past my window while I work today, grateful for the theatre nature so generously provides. I'll pause now and then to sit in the sunny spot at the end of my couch and watch the world go by. I'll admire the way the snow crowns roses in the garden, and smile at children making snow angels on our yet-untrammelled lawn. I'll enjoy the contrast of comfortable warmth and chilly view, and savour this snowy day for the special treat it is.
I hope that your morning has been a happy one, that your busy-ness has room in it for quiet and reflection, and that the day brings you a thousand small gifts you can unwrap with the anticipation of wonder. Have a joyful Monday.