Playing outside Lambeau: Checking out the Titletown district during Winter

As someone who loves to go out and enjoy Wisconsin winters, I like to see what opportunities are available during them. The new Titletown district in Green Bay has the potential to provide Winter Cities opportunities for residents of that city and for tourists. So I appreciated the chance to check it out, the same week it opened, while attending a Packer game last weekend. (As I have written about earlier, just attending a game at Lambeau is a pretty interesting example of outdoor winter fun, in its own right!) The most striking winter feature of Titletown is a hill for tubing, but the skating, restaurant, and other features also make this an enjoyable winter-outdoors destination.

The Tubing Hill

This is clearly the most striking feature. It serves as a symbol for Titletown – and for winter recreation. Well-lit, this is what attracts one’s eye. (Along with the nearby hotel, the Lodge Kohler). It looked like a fun, fast-paced ride!

We arrived at Ariens Hill at around 5:30, before a game that started at 7:30. When we walked by the start of the line, there was an hour-long wait to ride down. I don’t know how many people will be willing to wait that long in line before future games; but I could see a steady supply of people arriving to make use of it. (Heck, people stand in parking lots for hours tailgating; standing in line for an hour to ride down doesn’t seem that unusual compared to that.)

The hill has two lanes. Usually, two riders were sent down at roughly the same time, enabling a bit of a ‘racing’ feel. I am not sure how much control a rider has, but it did look fun to travel down at a good speed – this is a pretty sharp slope. The hill is long enough to provide a decent-length ride.

We were lucky enough to see Packers CEO Mark Murphy walk by, and he was asked if he had been down the hill. He said he had (see video here!) and found it tricky to ride down straight, since bumping into an edge turns the tube. That sounds like a representative experience; most of the riders I saw did seem to come down sideways or backwards.

This is a fast-paced ride down the hill, so the hill has been designed to slow down riders at the end. Strips have been placed across the lanes near the end, where the lanes slope slightly up, in order to slow down tubers. Tubes are returned to the top via a conveyor system; the riders we saw, on the other hand, needed to climb stairs in order to ride.

At $3 a ride, this feels like a reasonably-priced activity before a Packer game. After all, people come prepared to spend a lot on food, tickets, and more at these events. I would also guess that many winter tourists to Lambeau during non-game days might choose to drop by for a ride or two. On the other hand, I am not so sure how this will work on an everyday basis for locals.

When I was a child, a favorite Green Bay activity was to ride down the big slide at Bay Beach. So this felt like a familiar Green Bay activity to me. It looked like a good ride; and having the riders as the centerpoint of this winter activity district seems a good idea, given their visibility, and the drama of their speed.

The Broader Titletown Experience

There are a decent amount of winter activities one can choose from. Furthest away from Lambeau is a football field. It was oddly empty, I thought. (Perhaps in the future, more people will realize there is a field over here, and carry a football over to use on it.) We were entertained by watching a handful of people fail miserably at attempts to kick a field goal 😉 (I actually wouldn’t recommend doing that, since one’s ball could easily end up lost behind a fence.)

There is a playground next to the field which looks pretty nice – but it was fenced off and closed, apparently for the winter.

There are a good number of outdoor seats here. Despite the big number of fans, these chairs didn’t get a lot of use. (More people preferred to stand in the parking lot, apparently.) I did enjoy sitting on them – a nice place to watch others taking part in winter recreation!

An outdoor fire, and nice overall lighting, give this the feel of a downtown winter park. I enjoyed being there; it looked pleasing, felt nice, and felt active.

They had some carved ice pieces on tables, which people could play with by stacking up. (And a ‘Sunday Night Football’ ice sculpture fans could pose by.) That appeared to be an area that is underutilized; perhaps they will come up with more ideas in the future. I enjoyed using the ice bricks. However, by the time I used them, enough were chipped that it was difficult to build anything too high. One table did have a pretty impressive sculpture… until a boy tried to add on to it, and it all fell over. I suspect some of the bricks were damaged in that fall (and other falls), making it more difficult for future would-be sculptors to build something comparable. (Apparently, it was easier to build taller sculptures earlier in the day.)

We stopped at the restaurant located under the hill, 46 Below, largely because we could order salad and soup there (it is hard to find healthy or light food options in this area). I was quite happy I did, particularly since the windows provided such a great view of Titletown – the skating path in particular! (The restaurant seemed overwhelmed or understaffed at this time; I imagine the atmosphere is more relaxed at other times.) This really feels like an excellent location to have a meal, or coffee, and sit and warm up with a wonderful view of the outside activity.

Skating appeared to be the true activity center. A good number of people were skating; and skating well, from what I saw. The price was reasonable for Lambeau activities. This winding skatepath was a nice counterpart to the hill. When next to those activity areas, one feels like one is a part of a lively outdoor community.


A Winter City destination?

The Titletown District looks like a great idea to test, in this atypical location. Green Bay is not a large city, but it has one major tourist draw – Lambeau Field. Adding additional attractions in the Lambeau area sounds like a good idea. I think this attraction in particular could be a good way to use this space during winter. (The Winter Cities Institute is the key organization spreading word about how actively designing cities to provide opportunities for residents to enjoy themselves in winter can benefit those residents.)

On this visit, the outdoor Titletown activities drew a decent crowd; but the Lambeau parking lot, the bars, Kroll’s drew bigger crowds. The Hinterland brewery in Titletown appeared more crowded than the outdoor activities were. Will more people make this a part of their Lambeau experience now that they know it is here, and can plan for it – or will numbers go down as the novelty wears off?

That said, this is the ‘Packer district.’ This doesn’t enliven the downtown, or really connect to other parts of town. Residential areas largely surround this district. I am not sure how often people might walk (or drive) from neighboring subdivisions to come over and use the tubing hall, skating area, and so on. (It is possible that families, or couples on dates, might find this even more enjoyable than Packer fans do.) So I am not sure what it will contribute to the vicinity. These attractions largely function like a typical urban park would, but perhaps made more financially viable by having tourists also use them. (It also looks like Titletown will make the Lambeau area a more popular destination in other seasons as well, although I was unable to find out how skating area and hill will be used in summer.)

My first impression is that this is a great effort to make Green Bay more of a Winter City – to help Wisconsin residents get outside, and enjoy opportunities which winter offers!

Photographs by and copyright Matt Filipiak.



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Snow in Animated TV Christmas Specials: Imagined Joys of Winter

As Ambassador of Snow, I look for celebrations of snow where I can find them. When holiday season comes around, and I watch Christmas Specials which I enjoyed in my youth, I am struck by just how large snow looms in these specials. Long before “Frozen,” these specials had multiple snow-based-characters, and provided comforting images of lives led in snowy landscapes – perhaps nothing has done more to depict the bright side of snow as these specials have! So let’s consider a few examples of frosty delights and winter magic…


A Charlie Brown Christmas

This, appropriately, looks like a story set in the Minnesota Charles Schulz grew up in. As is the case with the other specials, the setting is very snowy. Everywhere we see snow-covered landscapes; what is normal in this world is looking out to see snow! This might be most notable when we see when Charlie Brown walk home past snowy fields; the stark combination of black sky and white fields projects peacef and calm.

Particularly striking is the joy characters demonstrate when interacting with snow. Snow falls during the opening as they skate on ice; it falls at the end while they sing. (Falling snow looks great on the screen… and not bad on this blog, during mid-winter 🙂 For love of early snow! Lucy leads a debate over the flavor of snowflakes which they catch on their tongues. And Snoopy expresses great delight in outdoor recreation during the opening frozen pond scene. Continually, we are reminded that this is a setting where characters experience snow, and enjoy themselves out in the winter weather.


The Rudolphverse

Pop culture commentary is in love with ‘-verses’ now, so I will coin this phrase!  The Rudolph-verse is the world in which a series of Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas Specials take place. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” both largely take place in a snow-covered North; “A Year without a Santa Claus” is based, I think, in the same fictional universe, although the action takes place in a broader range of locations.

The world of ‘the North Pole’ in these specials looks more like the Northern contiguous U.S. than the actual Arctic ice mass. This is not a land of flat expanses of ice; nor does it look like tundra or taiga. (This is no “Atanarjuat.”) So these specials add an aura of Christmas magic to the landscapes many Americans could experience during winter.

Instead of broad sweeps of ice, the designers present us with delightfully bizarre snowscapes, including surreal curved mountains! Seriously, keep an eye on the background of “Rudolph.” The scale of these landscape elements is weird, so I can’t tell if these are meant to be mountains, or just ice plates smashed up into the air, or what. Whatever they are, they are stark, spiky, and prone to curving over – what it would be like to walk amidst a landscape like that! (Perhaps some video game designers took their cues from here…)

Travel in this snowy and icy world is central to the plot. Kris Kringle in “Santa Claus” must navigate the Mountains of the Whispering Winds in order to move from his idyllic frozen home valley to the town where he delivers toys; later, he and his family flee to the North Pole. The entire action of “Rudolph,” from the North Pole to the Island of Misfit Toys to the locations of Rudolph’s wanderings, is covered by snow and/or and ice (or open sea between frozen locations).

Many stories about the Arctic polar region (polar exploration narratives, efforts to seek the Northwest Passage) depict the landscape as an icy challenge, the primary adversary of those who travel here. (See Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez for an introduction to such stories.) That is not at all the case here. Instead, the characters do not seem affected by the cold – that’s the case for elves, Santa, reindeer, and a prospector. Also, there are literal snow-creatures. It’s not realistic, no – but wow, if you want something that encourages people to just go and out and experience the outdoors during winter, without the cold intimidating them, this is as good as it gets!

This tendency goes furthest in the depictions of actual creatures of snow. “Rudolph” includes both a talking snowman, and a snowmonster (which I… don’t think is made out of snow, but that’s what it is called). Other specials depict two figures with significant snow-related magic: the Winter Warlock, and the Snow Miser. (Snow Miser, note, not Cold Miser, as the contrast would suggest.) So not only are these characters comfortable with snow, they have a special bond with it; their powers allow them to transform it, and/or to use it to transform the world.

(On a tangent, let me just say that the winter love of these specials is demonstrated by the contrast between Snow Miser and Heat Miser. One of the two is clearly cooler (and not just in the punning sense), and that one is Snow Miser, right? Heat Miser gets thrown off his game, but Snowy stays in control and snarky. And he’s the one who is fond of the title character, Santa.)


Frosty the Snowman

Another series of specials revolves around a literal snowperson too, of course. “Frosty” is all about celebrating snow – the kids are eager to play in it, then they do play, and they make a snowman out of it. The oft-repeated lead song pays tribute to a person made out of snow. We are led to feel excited when water freezes, and sad and worried when it melts. The special provides a message about celebrating snow, impermanent as it is, while we have it to appreciate.

(One sequel, “Frosty Returns,” makes the message even more explicit. A town is convinced by the promise of a “Summer Wheeze” spray to try to change the climate so they can avoid snow. But Frosty comes to the Winter Carnival to convince people to appreciate snow, rather than try to eliminate it. This is a much less successful, creatively, and less popular special, however.)

Again, even when action moves northward, we see forests – not tundras or ice sheets. Frosty is able to use these landscapes – and his snowiness – to escape, in one key scene.

Throughout these specials, these characters don’t stop to complain about snow. They treat it as normal. They go outside and do what they need to do; they live, work, and play on the snow. The children go out and delight in playing in the snow. Other characters can go beyond that, due to having snow as part of their essence. We can’t do that – but perhaps we can reclaim some of the sense of magic, and joy, in snow which we experienced while watching these specials when we were young!






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In Defense of Winter

I love to praise Winter weather. I understand the challenges it can pose, but despite those challenges, I find much to enjoy about it. And so I choose to write in defense of Winter.

I think that one can appreciate life during winter, particularly if one takes a pro-active attitude toward identifying what one can enjoy. I hope these remarks don’t come off as flippant – I understand and respect the frustration people have with some aspects of winter. (It poses challenges for me, too.) But I want to encourage all of us to have a better time during these months; to enjoy what life in this world has to offer!

I have been working on this post for some time. Given how often I find myself defending Winter when others criticize it, I wanted to write a piece which focused on responding, in one place, to the criticisms I hear most often.

Yes, I understand that winter has certain challenges, and things that other seasons have can be difficult to find during Winter. So in this post, I will respond to some common complaints I hear about Winter.


I like Fall or Spring better

Fair enough. I respect the different preferences.

That said, if you live in Wisconsin, you live in a place where we have a variety of seasons. I try to identify what I can enjoy during each season, rather than being bummed because it is not my favorite season. We can enjoy what each has to offer, in turn – and that diversity of seasons is part of what our area has to offer.

Winter brings us snow. It includes the holiday celebrations for Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day. Having grown up in Milwaukee, part of the charm of each of those holidays for me is linked with the Winter weather during which it occurs.

So much of what we can enjoy of life – including an ability to observe the outdoors – is available during Winter.


Too dark

There are some difficulties caused by darkness; dangers posed by depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

But there is a value to night and darkness. No one has done more to help us see what we miss when we miss darkness than Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night. We’ve turned away from the dark; we don’t see what it has to offer. Today, Mark Vanhoenacker wrote an elegant piece reminding us of what we can appreciate about even the shortest days of the year.

The darkness offers us a chance to pay particular attention to what is special about lights – Christmas decorations, for instance. Dec 2010 034

Meanwhile, we should take advantage of the chance to see brightness when we can. Soak in those days when the snow sparkles and shines! Take time during the day to look out the window and feel the sun… the apricity, to use a word Robert MacFarlane reminded us of…


There’s too little to do

Well, most of what we do in other seasons is still possible.

Basically all of the indoor activities – concerts, plays, restaurants, coffeeshops, shopping – are still available.

Are winter recreation activities more limited than summer ones? Yes. Does that mean one can’t go outside between December and February? No.

For that matter, in contemporary Milwaukee, we usually have snow cover for less than half of that period, and there are plenty of days where it hits the 40s – and usually at least one where it hits the 60s – so we can easily participate in a lot of outdoor activities like biking, running, basketball on the warmer days. Appreciate the rare days when we do have snow – and enjoy other opportunities when we do no.

To some extent, the available events are a result of choices we have made as a society. As David Staples said of Edmonton: “Winter can clobber you if you let its icy hands keep you indoors. I’ve been roughed up by winter at times, partly because of our collective failure to build an accessible, enticing outdoor winter culture.” But that is a choice – and we can choose differently.

Are these attitudes shaped by lack of others outside? The local park usually looks quiet, yes. But it doesn’t have to be.

And one can enjoy the relative solitude of Winter walks.

For those who might need more help from others, there are group celebrations of Winter. Early in Winter, we have plenty of December-holidays-themed activities. In January, many state parks and local nature centers have some type of ‘Winterfest’ or ‘Candlelight hike/ski’ event which can be celebrated. Check those out, to make Winter more memorable! DSC02092

We can focus on what is there to do, and what there is to appreciate.


It is dangerous

Yes. I will not deny or diminish that. This is something to be aware of.

Dress carefully. Don’t take unnecessary risks. I try in my posts to only advise people to appreciate winter in safe ways.

Some, for instance older Americans, face particular challenges. I understand that their opportunities to appreciate Winter will be more limited, and I regret that.

But for those of us who do not face such challenges – we can focus more on savoring the moments when we can appreciate it.

Play it safe.


Too difficult for the poor

Yes, I agree. But that – like the dangers provided by summer heat (see Chicago heat deaths) – is by now, in the U.S., mostly an issue about social priorities. Given our current wealth and technology levels, it is not the case that Americans struggle to survive during the winter because our society does not have enough wealth to keep all of its citizens warm. (Similarly, all Americans could be kept safe from summer heat – or from the dangers of society – if we made different choices as a society.) The weather itself is not the issue here, but rather our choices as a society, to not take enough care of our fellow Americans.


It looks grey and ugly

Yes, it does, in some places.

So, look elsewhere. Look away from the streets.

Our reliance on automobiles, and the way they shape our experiences of Winter, too often narrow what we look at.

Winter has the brightest moments around here, when sunlight reflects off of the snow.

(This piece of mine is worth revisiting, as a video essay which demonstrates some of the places I suggest watching – and looking away from.)


It looks boring

True, there is less color. But there’s a lot of variety one can find. There is likely less variety to see on a given day, in terms of color, or animals one can view. On the other hand, as I have often posted about here, there is a lot of variety between days. (Only fall-color season can match it.) So much changes, depending on what is or isn’t frozen, if snow does or doesn’t cover the ground, if snow does or doesn’t hang from branches, and so on!


It lasts too long

Keep active. We have diverse seasons here. The season will eventually change.

Sometimes I find this rhetoric puzzling. Last year, I saw articles proclaiming ‘The winter that wouldn’t end’ – in the first week of February? (Calendar winter only begins on December 22, folks. It runs 3 months. Early February is less than halfway through) Who in Wisconsin grew up expecting that snow would melt for good at the end of January, replaced by temps in, say, the 40s or higher? That is just not the climate here. There’s going to be some kind of cold weather, most likely. (Also, this year we had temperatures around 60 in early December – this doesn’t look likely to be a long Winter, given how late it started.)

So I acknowledge some of the challenges posed by winter. I hope we can do more, together as a society, to lessen some of those challenges.


But I also think we can do our part by being more open to and optimistic about what winter has to offer. And by becoming a part of the enticing winter culture we would benefit from!






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Early Winter, when the snow is confined to paths…

Well, snow has returned to Wisconsin for another Winter! Of course, I have been eagerly awaiting this…

As always, I keep an eye out to see the distinctive ways in which snow transforms a landscape. During early snows, sometimes the only places where the snow sticks, or remains, can be the places that are flat and cleared out – including paths. I find it odd to be walking (and slipping) on snow – while there is almost no snow elsewhere to view!


What I can check out is this line of white, this river of snow cutting through the surrounding brown. Off the path – just a little frosting of snow. But strikingly easy to see where the path goes! (Dramatically go, given that the path is normally pretty close in color to the trees and leaves.)


Literal rivers and streams also stick out. In a wetland, areas wet and open enough that they lack grass and trees now wear mantles of white – while the surroundings mostly keep the colors they will wear for most of the winter.

I was hoping to see early ice – which I have found quite stunning in the past. I didn’t – instead, the ice was much of what the snow covered at this point.

This is not yet the time of winter when there is a full carpet of snow, setting up sharp contrasts between dark trees (and nights) and the bright snow below. But we can check out a partial version of that.

(Any readers who live somewhere where light snows are typically all they receive might be able to observe this, and share their observations about it, as a larger part of their Winter experiences.)

On a smaller scale, we can observe this phenomenon at play on other objects that create a clear flat plane. On this day, small open spots held onto a dusting of snow. Tree trunks also let the eye trace snow-coated lines on the landscape.

I think this is part of the charm we can find in winter. Different types of snow, different amounts of snow, different times of season, each can reshape the landscape in different ways. Getting outside on a regular basis, and keeping an eye on these differences, can keep us engaged and entertained during Winter – give us something to look forward to.

What have we cleared? What has nature left open to the sky?

Why notice this? To what end? Because I enjoy observing. Because I like to see the differences. Because I hope that by pointing out some of what can be observed, I can help raise interest in observing the outdoors during winter.

So here’s to hoping you enjoy seeing the ways snow transforms the landscape, day to day and snowfall to snowfall, wherever you are!


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Looking at Snow on City Buildings in Appleton

Reflections on Increasing Snow Appreciation through Urban Architecture and Design

During winter, when I walk around, or ride on the bus, I like to look for snow. I watch to see where snow shows up in urban and suburban landscapes.

I believe that positive associations with winter can be shaped in part by enabling people to view snow in pleasing fashion. Cities can provide parks; lawns can make use of evergreens; and buildings can use small design elements to allow snow a place to sit and… well, look cute. I will present a series of photos from downtown Appleton to demonstrate some of the locations there – large and small – where I found snow to appreciate. What can Winter Cities do to help people appreciate the beauty which winter brings?

dsc01468Landscaping with evergreens can make a significant difference. While both of these plants have their charms, evergreens can hold snow on and amidst their branches. This provides visual interest; spots of white appear above the horizontal. Even after the snow has fallen off of the branches of leaf-less plants, these evergreen bushes can keep presenting us with snow to appreciate. (Note: I definitely do also appreciate other trees on the landscape in winter as well! And native grasses provide very nice visual contrast.)

dsc01473dsc01474Public spaces can play a notable role in providing spaces where snow can remain. In these images, snow from earlier in the day remains on the sidewalks. But that will not stay for long. Soon, there will be little snow left on storefronts and sidewalks (likely excepting a set of piles along the road). Winter weather’s easiest-to-appreciate feature, snow, will have been removed. But in a plaza or park, snow can be left on the ground. (The ice sculptures framing the sidewalk are also a strong choice to help welcome people into a winterscape!)

As the image on the left shows, this gives people the chance to walk amidst snow-covered stretches of ground. It is a lot easier to feel that one is in a Winter City when there is some snow to see! If we are going to get hit by feet of snow over the course of winter, I think it appropriate that in some spots in our downtowns, we give that snow space to stay around. And to do so in places where we can appreciate it, access it! (Dingy snow piled up on the side of the road, or in vacant lots, is not something people want to appreciate.) We need snow that is easier to love.

dsc01476dsc01480On a smaller scale, I like to watch for little spots where snow sticks around after a storm, where it is not plowed away.

Many buildings have ledges were snow sits. But I like slightly larger ones, like this one, that allow more than just a thin line of snow.



I appreciated Rye’s effort here: decorations on the ledge. It becomes a little mini-model-landscape when the trees get snowed in 😉 I saw a group of people stop to check this out, with one member playing with the tinsel border on the bottom. This is a nice way to use a small space to allow nature and culture to combine.

dsc01477I suspect most of these buildings were not designed with an eye towards providing spaces for snow to sit. Whatever the case, I appreciate the ones that do provide multiple spots. The History Museum at the Castle provides a lot of such spaces, and a variety of them. Perhaps this earlier generation of architecture (and a style invoking much-earlier eras) allowed for more ledge spaces?

dsc01479It is a bit hard to tell in this photo, but when this sign is viewed at night, it really pops out with a frosting of snow. Note how snow sits on different letters; the light hitting the very reflective snow surface helps draw attention to the snow.

dsc01458Lights can be a means of helping draw attention to snow at night. This mixture of reflective surfaces, and shadows falling on snow, is quite striking. These lights provide a glow on snow, helping the whiteness pop out amidst a dimmer glow.dsc01459

Nearby, a business installed a light directed toward a tree. At some points during winter, like at this moment, this light ends up highlighting snow that lays on the tree. This picture turned out blurry, but you can see how the choice of a light in that location directs attention to a dramatic flash of white in the night.

dsc01464I regularly keep an eye out for patterns of shadows on snow. Allowing snow to stay in this alley/lane enabled these striking patterns as the light and fence combine.

dsc01463Unusual choices, which can set an establishment apart throughout the year, can play out differently during winter. This is just a tiny spot. But the red-light snow sticks out from a distance. There are plenty of white lights on snow. Outside of that, there’s not a lot of color (although I do watch to see how traffic lights can splay across nearby snow, particularly during a storm). So I appreciated this unusual choice.

dsc01453For the rest of this photo essay, I want to draw attention to some harmonious combinations I saw; spots which presented interesting mixtures of nature and culture. The evergreens here hold snow, as does the planter. A nearby light casts strong shadow patterns on the snow below. And this all plays out in front of the dimmer lights of the IL Angolo restaurant, including some holiday colors.


dsc01455On the weekend that a series of ice sculptures were created, I had the chance to check out how these sculptures fit into their surroundings. In this case, the year-round lights of this small public space provide an engaging backdrop. A kind of starry curtain behind angelic wings, perhaps?

Even if we look at this less fancifully… this spot provides a nice location from which to view a snow-dusted sculpture set out against a glowing snowy surface, with lights sparkily piercing the above darkness.


This planter again demonstrates Copper Leaf’s use of, and highlighting of, snow. Here’s another location where the mood lighting of the interior provides a contrast; dark walls, dim interior, bright decoration. They chose to rig up a kind of snaking garland of evergreen and lights upon a scaffold. So not only does the snow on top of the bush provide contrast and a little glow, but there’s a series of lights that at times will sit atop or alongside snow. And at other times, like this night, they more dramatically appear to illumine snow from behind or inside. I found this to be a delightful way to allow snow to provide a series of changing views of one’s landscaping.

dsc01452Finally, I like the combination of various factors at play here. The red blooms on trees inside, while little green remains outside. The library set a space set aside for snow to sit, just outside a greenhouse full of plant life. We see art in a public space, sculpture which sometimes matches the winding of the plants inside. And sculpture which sometimes holds onto drifting snow below, even as it wears snow as a crown above.

I hope this helped you develop an eye for winter, that it helps you locate little spots of beauty where you live!

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What I watch while walking in winter

Enjoying my time outdoors involves, in part, me becoming part of the moment. There is much to observe, and that directs me to connect with the experience, to be in the moment of snowfall.

What are some of the things I try to draw my attention to?

How is the snow falling on me? Can I listen to the pitter of flakes on my hood? It is an amusing move to be able to regularly sweep snow off myself, when it accumulates. On days like today, it can soak my jacket.

Can I find spots to I watch from? Benches will need to be swept off. Having water-resistant pants helps me find more spaces I can sit.

I also enjoy spending some time standing or sitting under trees. That allows me a break from snow falling on, or hitting my face. It allows me to set up camera shots without foreground snowflakes blurring the larger scene I am trying to depict.

Today, I was lucky enough to notice how, while standing under a tree, I could isolate flakes falling and watch them. Enough of the snowy sky was blocked that I could focus attention; enough of the snowfall was blocked that I could look up.dsc01229


How is the built environment designed to allow snow to stay where we can appreciate it? Think of how many beautiful snow pictures you have seen which involved houses. Or which involved looking at snow on familiar landmarks of a city. Certain objects – awnings, statues, roofs – can serve, at least temporarily, as sites which winter can transform. Sites where we can enjoy this strikingly visible aspect of nature.

I grew up in the suburbs, which have some elements designed in a way that keeps snow visible. The high percentage devoted to lawn space sets up a landscape that is mostly flat, and thus can easily be submerged under, say, an inch of snow, leaving most of the yard for snow to cover and drift over. Roofspaces can perform a related function. The driveway gets shoveled – little else is.

Today, in the nature center, I could observe how the bridge gets ‘decorated’ during a snowfall. How can we use architecture and urban planning to harmoniously design our places so that we can enjoy the beauty of interplay between nature and culture, all year-round?


In other spaces, snow is removed more quickly. Roadways and sidewalks get cleared. Spaces reliant on them – and without benches, statues, or other design elements on which snow can be allowed to sit – quickly are mostly emptied of snow.

Who else is out, and how are they enjoying it? Listen for the voices of children having fun, in particular! They are less constrained. And they are less likely to assume that snow means burdens which one should be frustrated be – more likely to look for opportunities to be creative and enjoy it.

What artifacts or marks can I find that provide signs of how people enjoyed themselves? If they found joy in such a moment, I also find a little joy in seeing what they left behind for others like me to be entertained by!

This can be basically a small visual gesture. But it is also striking. In other seasons, it is rarer, and trickier, to create such ‘natural/weather sculpture.’ Andy Goldsworthy does it superbly; what I have more often seen are piles of rocks clearly shaped by a constructor. Snowforts and snowpeople offer us the chance to send a signal to others, a signal of the joy we found in reshaping our environment (and doing so in a sustainable fashion) while enjoying the outdoors.


How does snow sit in different trees? To explore this question, it helps to head out during, or shortly after, a snow which clings to branches. Snow does not tend to stay long in trees. But while it is there, one can keep an eye on how certain branches get coated (sometimes with ice as well), and what effect a skeletal structure now white rather than brown has; how thorough the coating is, how much the sun brightens in, and more. On trees which keep leaves or needles, how can snow pile up in bunches on it? How does each branch have a slightly different set of details in its balance of how snow hangs from it, extends it, coats it? How do – particularly if one looks from underneath – green and brown still project themselves, leading to striking complements between the colors.


We just had our first real chance this year to observe some of this in Wisconsin. I hope you will keep these questions in mind (and come up with your own, which you might share with me!) as you keep appreciating what our natural world has to offer!

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Looking for rhythms and rolls in this late-arriving winter

Well… it has been a while since I last posted. A lot of that has to do with how slow snow was in arriving this year. I did not see any snow accumulation until after Christmas. Yes, I do get out to explore during every season! Which includes the snow-less stretches of fall and winter. But it is hard to get motivated to write ‘MilwaukeeSnow’ posts… when I haven’t seen snow for around 8 months!

But cold winter weather eventually arrived – I’ve had the chance to go snowshoeing, and experienced a legitimate deep-cold spell. Since the temperature was near zero Fahrenheit, I went out looking to take some pictures of the special winter scenes one can find during such cold. I went out too late in the day to get good light for my pictures. But I was able to enjoy the sights; I found landscapes (wetlandscapes?) which allowed me to take an up-close look at frost flowers.

In person, the fragility of these items engages me: tiny yet spinning out extensions, spiky and wispy. When I look at the pictures later at home, they often seem stark abstractions – black and white, sharp firm lines.

The next day, I hoped to get better pictures of these crystals… but instead, a light snowfall left a new coat of snow over everything. So, as winter often allows, I was able to see a different set of pleasures than the day before!


I find it difficult to see winter’s aesthetic as boring, since there are so many patterns to see. The best days may be the sunny ones, such as the day on which I took these pictures. Shadow-and-sunlight play off the snow, dimming some areas – but brightening other areas in a way no other season can match. (A brightness that sometimes makes it difficult for an amateur photographer to capture what they were hoping to depict 😉

The recent back-and-forth between cold and melting weather, between snow and rain, led to a very uneven snow landscape here. On warmer days earlier in the week, little islands of snow were surrounded by water; when it grew cooler, surrounded by ice. Layer snow over this, and you have a wetland landscape that is very rolling, on a small scale. Bumps rather than plateaus. Since the scale is so small, the prints left behind by deer can also serve as a regular feature creating ups and downs. Each mini-hill can cast shadows of its own – as well as bending shadows, as the picture below shows.


Shadows can start off as sharp lines that accentuate a woodland’s patterns. Trees provide a series of stark verticals – their shadows, stark horizontals. Where ground is level, one can follow a cross-hatching. On the other hand, where ground is rolling, the patterns become more complex.


On bright days, these shadows can stretch a long day, as you can see at the top of the above picture. I entertain myself by walking alongside these long strips, seeing how far along the snow they carry. (Cloudy days – or days without snow cover – don’t provide such opportunities to observe shadow play, so check them out when you’ve got winter sun.)


But my favorite pictures from such days tend to be quite small-scale. I will walk along, see an interesting pattern of slender shadows, and snap a few pictures. Here, we see grasses casting out shadow spells that mostly reach out straight… but complemented by a different series of patterns existing in the snowscape has has other patterns. So the shadows curve; often a little, sometimes dramtically. In this picture, the grass shadows exist alongside another set of patterns, subtle curved drifts of snow. Those snow-curves provide just tiny shadows of their own, but have striking ridge lines, as well as a variety of aspects to the flake arrangements on the ‘slopes.’


I go out to see what the day will provide. In this last photo, the shadows on this scale are much more curved than those cast by most woodland features. They call to mind strange claws, or animated brushstrokes. A day when the cold stings exposed skin… yet snowflakes and shadow patterns provide a delicacy one can enjoy.

It has been a while, but I am glad to have the opportunity to explore winter’s beauty again – and to share my perspectives on winter with you.

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Walk Across Lake Winnebago, 3: Photos and Reflections from the 2015 walk

I enjoyed my second Walk Across Lake Winnebago this past weekend, so I want to share a set of pictures and reflections from the walk. I am someone who loves Wisconsin and winter enough that I started a blog to convince people to appreciate the beauty and fun we can have here during winter, so this is the kind of inspiring event I want people to use as a model! (I also have written about last year’s Walk, and the history of the Walk.) As the above photo suggests, the view from the opening leg is exciting. Seeing a long line of people, snaking across the path ahead, makes one feel part of something big!

On a smaller scale, there are sights of intricate beauty to be found, if one takes a look:


These are the kind of sights that one might capture during a variety of kinds of experience out on the ice. But it helps to have special events like this to bring a lot of people out here, to have the chance to look! I love to watch for the strange patterns that can be formed in the ice.

DSC08273Most of what I saw, when looking at the nature around the walk, were sights like the preceding one. Snow that extends so far away… that it is a bit hard to wrap one’s head around the immensity of it. Snow that extends so far, human vision can only capture so much of it before it blurs into a white haze curving away… and then, above it, a distant shoreline.

DSC08281DSC08282I spent more time viewing images like the one to the left, though. When you walk on ice, its important to safely keep an eye on what you’re walking on! The road across the ice – plowed, driven over, and then walked over by hundreds – had patches of exposed ice, but usually one could find a sweet spot of packed snow to walk in along the side.

I got familiar at spotting the tracks of what one could use to help grip the ice – particularly the crisscrossing marks left by Yaktrax brand ice-traction devices people add to their shoes.

DSC08295One marks the distance in part by watching for landmarks. There is a regular set of old Christmas trees marking the road, giving a sense of one’s progress. More notably, there will periodically be areas with a mix of tables trucks and more, breakpoints where a group has gathered.

Or, to put it more poetically… ‘hark, what do I see in distance? Is it a mirage? Or, like Brigadoon, perhaps once in a great while a village magically arises where one would not expect to find one… and then disappears until the next year :)’

DSC08297More prosaic than Brigadoon, but equally lively, is the key temporary hamlet, Apple Pie Ville. (And don’t worry folks, it may be gone… but even larger numbers will soon be on the ice, for sturgeon spearing season…) As a blogger who plays tribute to the outdoors in winter, I tend to focus on images of nature – but for most participants, this is largely a chance for community fun. And this stop in the middle is a highlight!DSC08287 (2)

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At Apple Pie Ville, the supplies are brought by truck, but others find different ways to haul items. On the left, we see an example of a rare but regular practice – pulling a sled’s worth of supplies across the ice. On the right, a bike used to pull a supply sled, by bikers spreading good cheer on their way across the ice!

Serendipitously, a dog charmingly posed amidst the shot I was setting up of the sled! This event raises funds for the Neenah Animal Shelter, so there are a lot of dog-lovers on the walk – but not a lot of dogs, given the difficult conditions. (And yes, on this winter landscape, the dogs get to walk, while humans do the hauling 😉

This year’s event paid tribute to one of the Walk’s strongest supporters, David Kohler. Kohler, an animal lover who helped the Walk raise a lot of funds for the Shelter, passed away in September 2014.

DSC08315 (3)DSC08307Part of the charm of an event like this is seeing all the ways people find to make the ice feel homey – and to entertain themselves. Walkers and non-walkers alike come to hang out for a hours. So yes, someone had a fire out on the ice.

New for this year, one could buy pizza on the ice. In the modern world, one can call ahead, while walking across a frozen lake, to order pizza being cooked elsewhere on the ice… its a strange world, when you think about it!

DSC08256Some who joined the event got an impressive workout – bikers and runners (pictured) who crossed the lake both ways. But most of us just went one-way, and took a reasonably paced, but fairly leisurely, pace for the ten miles we covered.

In some ways, what is weird about the event is how… ordinary it feels. From the conversations I had, or overheard, I got the sense that this was not a group who came out primarily out of a desire to study nature, or to engage in some extreme exercise. These were people who largely live in the area, and were taking the chance to come together in a local public space; people who were having everyday social conversations, while on a social walk together. And quite a range of people – Stacy Frakes told me that walkers in past years have ranged from a 2nd-grader all the way to a woman of around 80 years. It is easy to feel part of a community enjoying being active. The most common comment organizers hear is ‘you end up walking with different people, people you’ve never met before’ – it brings the lake community together. It just so happens that this community meets up miles out on the ice!

I wish we had more such social walks! Why not get out and walk around the public natural areas in our communities with our neighbors more often? More promenading! Perhaps that can be a means for communities in other parts of the state find ways to appreciate what the public nature around them has to offer?

Which led me to wonder; could other communities, if they found the right event, also decide to have a communal celebration during a winter outdoors event? (The large number of fishoramas and fishorees and the like demonstrate that many already do so, in a fashion.) As the organizers told me, this changes how they and others look at February – now, they have something special to look forward to. And if being outside in winter can feel so ordinary, at times like this (or during fishing, tubing, skiing, or while walking around a city), I wonder why so many people complain about winter, at other times? (Well, I’ll keep working to try to convince people to remember the bright spots, like this event!)


Part of the fun for me, as someone who loves viewing winter nature at a slow pace, and taking pictures of it, is finding out what kind of immersive experiences I can have; what does it feel like when I stop and take in the fact that I’m in the middle of a 215 square mile lake? And what intriguing perspectives can I capture from the walk; for instance, what do viewers think when they look at the above photo? What does it help us see about ice?

Lake Winnebago is a special place, one that provides a unique sort of opportunity which this walk takes advantage of. An event like this, involving the vistas one can look over, and involving a long safe walk through the wilderness, could not be held in most locations. But lakes have traditionally been considered public spaces in Wisconsin, so when a lake temporarily becomes a solid surface, it opens up a space for hosting an event such as this. Winter may be cold, but I hope we in Wisconsin appreciate how fortunate we are to have a combination of nature which the public can access, and below-freezing weather, which enables people in places like the Winnebago area (and other lake communities) to take advantage of the situation; to visit an outdoor commons and enjoy ourselves there!

As my final image to represent this year’s walk, I want to recapture that combination of walkers and bikers, wild nature and community conversation, of so many different contributions from locals in the area, that makes this event special. This year, ads on the side of the road – which reminded me of Wall Drug 😉 – kept reminding us that pizza was ahead. (I love the directions: ‘after Apple Pie Ville.’ Yep, when you’re walking straight on the only road you see on the ice, that’s direction enough!) The walk saw a steady flow of walkers, occasionally visited by trucks, snowmobiles, bikers (and one plane). This is Winter, this is Wisconsin, and this is how we like it! Now, its your turn to get out and enjoy winter, other Wisconsin communities…


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Trying to Capture Beauty of the January 31 Blizzard

DSC08210Last weekend saw the biggest snowstorm of the season in Milwaukee. As usual, I wanted to get out and enjoy the pleasures that snow can provide while falling! Then, I went out afterwards to see how snow and wind had reshaped the landscape.

It is always a challenge to try to recapture the experience of a snowstorm, as engrossing – and hard to capture in photos – as it is. But I took photos to try to capture the feel of different parts of the storm, so here goes another attempt…

DSC08192Walking downtown, I had the chance to feel amidst both the wildness of snow, and the dramatic forms of some of the larger buildings in Milwaukee. A lot of history and design, a lot of snow visible in the air.

DSC08198I enjoy taking a look at landmarks with snow also as part of the scene. What gets blurred in the distance? How can one feel encased in a kind of limited-snow-globe-world, where after a certain point, all that appears to exist is a wall of snowy blur?

It was also fun to see others out in the snow, including a surprising-to-me number of bikers.

DSC08191One stab at capturing the feel of the falling snow, the lights of buildings, and the amusing interplay between lights and snow….

DSC08227Sometimes, I play with the abstractions that a camera shot can produce. How to recapture what it looks like to see streams of color as snow passes by a stoplight? Well, here’s one possibility.

DSC08240This image plays more with flash effects. I’d never see an image quite like this, I admit, but I like how it captures the sense of a place flooded with snow.

DSC08212A blurry experience. Vision is limited, it is skewed, it varies as the wind shifts. I think this image presents that aspect; glows, fuzzy, low light, but bright lights pierce through.


Whenever I see light in winter – moon, sun, street – I look for the sharp play of shadows on the boldly white snow.

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How do patterns intersect, as tree shadows fall across drift patterns, with their subtle abstractions and tiny shadows?


The next day, as the sun rose, this combination of patterns was even sharper.

Remember that you can find such drift patterns in all kinds of places. Wherever there’s a yard with trees on it. Or in this case – at the rest area off the highway near Lomira!

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This stunning glimpse at the intricacy of drift patterns also came from that rest area. The scale doesn’t need to be great to find how wind can whip subtle changes in elevation, and who knows what else into a surprising variety of elegance. And these patterns might soon change, so take a glimpse at the patterns each day brings.

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I was struck by the power of long shadows cast across fields as the sun rose. I admit, though, that I couldn’t get a picture of that. So how about we just take a glance at the above photo… and remember the times that we’ve seen trees’ shadows stretching far, turning entire fields into an array of contrasts? Eventually, I’ll get the pictures I’m looking for, and then I’ll share those 😉


Then, to finish where I started… another way to envision the movement of the storm. The grasses (and the trees behind them) have fresh accumulation from the snow. They also are pulled around, bent over, by the wind. Again – get outside, look around at various objects in the landscape, and let me know what you find! The blizzard can truly only be experienced from within, but it is still fun to focus one’s attention on aspects of it that one can remember later.

(All photos by and copyright Jeff Filipiak.)

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January 2015 Winter Art and Writing Roundup

To encourage gratitude for winter, it is helpful to check out some of the most interesting events we can find, and to share thoughtful reflections on how we can find beauty and solace during the season. I share articles regularly on my Facebook page (and kudos to the Winter Cities Institute for doing so as well); late January feels like a good time to renew our winter love by revisiting highlights from what I’ve read so far this winter.

To start off, Alena Hall identified some great ways in which snow can help us find joy, including wonder, relaxation, and links to childhood memories. A good motivational piece to fire us up to remember what winter has to offer!

To value both winter and one’s community, it helps to be open to identifying what we have to enjoy. For example, Minnesotans have recently been taking more self-conscious pride in their identity as a ‘North.’ Ad agencies advised, “you’ve got to own the cold,” and this Wall Street Journal article explores ways that Minnesotans developed products and media campaigns which, among other things, identify the cold as being a distinctive aspect of their lives, something they can focus attention on as a marker of what they value about their lives and their places. If Minnesotans can find ways to take pride in their weather – typically colder and snowier than ours – I hope that motivates us to salute what we have, too.

To access the opportunities winter provides, it helps to develop activities which encourage people to explore, and to be creative. For example, Minnesota (again, ‘owning the cold’) has developed a scavenger hunt challenge to encourage people to check out different parts of their state during winter, Checkpoint Minnesota. I think more places – particularly our own Wisconsin – could benefit from such programs. (This week I wrote a new essay on a favorite local example of a winter-exploration event, the Walk Across Lake Winnebago.)

Creative public art projects can also be a means of directing peoples’ attention to something interesting and fun during winter, rather than having them focus on frustrating aspects. That could mean a Wisconsin town developing a giant snowman sculpture, a new icon during winter for Minocqua. It could involve a Minnesota family deciding to, on their own lawn, create some pretty impressive sculptures (and to get their neighbors to assist as well). Wouldn’t we appreciate winter more if it meant that every block periodically produced entertaining new sculptures for residents to enjoy? If we took more time to be creative?

A particularly fun example from this winter came from an Allouez woman, who decided to wear a costume based on a “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” character while walking her dog. This small act – which we could call a hobby, or performance art, or who knows what! – drew a lot of media attention. Neighbors could be entertained by something fun; and newscasters could focus attention on the lighter side of winter.

I appreciate seeing a variety of different articles sharing some of the beauty that we can find in winter. My favorite recent pieces show that winter’s beauty can be found in nature, in art developed to make use of snow, as well as in the ways that elegant human architecture can inspire us through the harmonies it can develop with different kinds of weather. Earthporm collected, and reflected on, some of the best examples from around the world of the striking patterns we can find in snow and ice. Simon Beck is one of the artists who most effectively uses snow as a medium for his art, tracing fractal patterns with his snowshoes. This Huffington Post piece provides a good introduction to his work; a recent Forth magazine interview. On the other side of the spectrum, Architectural Digest reminds us that when we make beauty a priority in the design of our buildings, the combination can remind us of how effectively nature and culture can work together.

On more philosophical notes, Wisconsin’s John Hildebrand, author of The Heart of Things: A Midwestern Almanac, shared reflections on how “winter night makes even the smallest chore expeditionary and the cold itself a destination,” in an essay which moves between reflections on walks in his neighborhood and tales of polar exploration. And Clark Strand, author of Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age, reminded us in a New York Times piece that there is a value, spiritual and otherwise, to the darkness during winter. Life offers us many opportunities, and making an efforts to access the gifts that come from such opportunities is part of the way to be happy where we are, during any season!

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