Frosty Fun and Fear in “Frozen:” How “Frozen” Depicts the Beauty and Experience of Winter Weather

“I never knew winter could be so beautiful.”

In terms of popular culture that depicts winter, the past decade saw a landmark appear on the landscape. The 2013 film “Frozen” was a huge hit in any right. But in the genre of winter-themed entertainment, since there aren’t a lot of films that focus more than brief attention on winter weather, it really stands out.

And this a film that takes freezing seriously as a topic. The title, ‘frozen,’ is no mere metaphor. The film is mostly set in a wintry landscape, and the lead character has magical winter powers. The signature song is presented in a palace made of ice and snow, and we repeatedly see beautiful images of winter. On the other hand, the characters all have to adapt to the consequences of things freezing around them, including the dangers it poses to them. Winter’s presence is felt throughout this film.

So – what does the film have to say about the weather when things are frozen? How does it represent winter? And, of particular interest to me, does it promote winter appreciation?

“Frozen” presents an appropriately balanced perspective. It continually suggests that there is a duality to winter – it is both beautiful and dangerous. It suggests that snow can be magical and fun, but that it also creates hardships. It also, since it presents so much ice and snow, directs attention to winter (and to the possibility of having an interesting time in it) in a way few other popular culture adventures do. The Ambassador of Snow gives it a high rating!

 

Right at the film’s beginning, it showers attention on frozen water. “Frozen Heart” has a metaphorical meaning which the film later makes clear. But it is also literally a song about ice. The film pairs it with an actual extended depiction of laborers working in nature (itself something rare in modern pop culture). We don’t think much about harvesting ice today, but it once was a notable use of nature in places like Wisconsin. (William Cronon explores this in his epic Nature’s Metropolis, for instance.) The film will have only a limited role for working people after this point (focusing instead on nobility), but this scene does provide a nice framing context of ‘ordinary residents use nature in this weather, to help make a living.’

Beautiful! / Powerful! / Dangerous. / Cold! Ice has a magic, can’t be controlled,” they sing, in a line that demonstrates the film’s approach to depicting the human relationship to ice. It is beautiful, as Elsa’s magic creations suggest. It is powerful, as her abilities to create and defend herself demonstrate, as well as the way ice endangers ships. It is dangerous, to every character in the film. And it is cold, a danger particularly shown in Anna’s predicament. Elsa literally has ice magic; and key to the plot is her struggle to control that magic. I admire this perspective as a statement about ice. There are moments of beauty worth seeking out. But overall, ice is something worth respecting, and being cautious around.

These are hearty men, working hard, who are aware of this duality. We also see a child, playing at ice harvesting. This establishes him, Kristoff, as someone who will learn these work habits and skills for making use of dangerous nature. The scene concludes with the northern lights, a vision of beauty often confined to areas which are cold.

 

Next, we meet two young girls. Anna lures Elsa to play, asking if she wants to make a snowman. Amazed, both delight in the winter powers, including the opportunities it provides for creative play. But Anna is too careless in the risks she takes on the ice, moving too fast, which leads her into danger. (A trait characteristic of her personality throughout the film.) Elsa, meanwhile, is not skilled enough to protect her from those dangers.

“Do You Want to Build a Snowman” might be the second most popular song from the film, with over 1.6 million downloads according to Billboard. This song is not as focused on its title as “Frozen Heart” is – and yet, it is a song whose opening question, repeated in each chorus, is about playing with snow. Perhaps nothing symbolizes children’s play in snow more than making a snowman, and this film repeatedly evokes the pleasure of that, including via Olaf, one of the film’s main supporting characters. This song provides a nice complement to the first song, focusing on the invigorating pleasures of simple transformations, rather than the harshness and discipline of the first scene.

Truly, this film celebrates some of the most significant ways Americans appreciate winter. Between “Do you want to build a snowman,” Olaf, the multiple examples of characters sliding in the snow, and the snow-covered forest, there are powerful representations here of the value that comes from snow. We also get to see a reindeer pulling a sleigh, which is not a part of contemporary American life… but certainly is representative of what our holiday songs emphasize about winter. And Elsa’s key moment of self-actualization, key moment of accepting her true identity, comes as she unleashes her winter powers. This is a film which literally has a snowman has one of the main characters, a very cute snowman who provides valuable assistance as well as comic relief.

The winter powers turn frightening, however. The film demonstrates how those powers unsettle just about every human in the story, including Elsa. This ice is scary, particularly when it takes spiky forms. (That part isn’t that realistic – the main dangers of ice come from how slippery it is) We see the power, and wildness, of winter.

We are regularly reminded that cold is something which limits humans. Humans are part of nature, and nature writers enjoy writing about ‘oceanic’ experiences where they feel connected to the whole of nature. But even when one is properly dressed for cold weather, one usually can’t just relax and feel this wholeness – the skin grows cold, and we are reminded of a barrier separating our body from the rest of the world. Winter is like a visit to a mountaintop in presenting an effective opportunity for soaking in the majesty of the sublime, which can mix beauty, and awe… and fear. Elsa’s castle is truly sublime, in this sense; and those who shiver in this film remind us of how we, too, would feel distanced from the winter weather. (We might feel a sense of connection to other creatures who shiver as we do, perhaps.) Appropriately, Elsa, as an embodiment of the power of cold, is someone who her parents tried to isolate from others, and who later insists that others stay away from her – she represents this sense of separation which winter brings.

How exactly good it is / to know myself / in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own / warmth, divided from all / by the cold…

as though frozen.”

­- Wendell Berry, “The Cold”

When Elsa is pushed too hard, her powers go out of her control. She produces weird shapes, spiky (unlike the smoother ones she produced as a child). Ice, normally a key danger of winter, for her provides a route to freedom, as the fjord turns into a path she can rush across, while others must take care in walking on it. As she flees, and nears the mountain, the visuals are dominated by snow, swirl, chaos. At the climax of the film, after Elsa escapes her imprisonment, we see the chaos again, when she is distraught. The screen is covering with swirling snow, hard to see, hard to identify particular objects – active agitation. Her tremendous power to create a storm is shown; and then, so is her ability to pause it, to freeze snowflakes in the air.

The film consistently suggests that some of the fears about winter (the fears of Elsa, in this case) can be unnecessary  – but also that it is a very real source of danger. Ships face a particular threat, as they are frozen into the harbor, and we are shown this on multiple occasions. Ships face even greater dangers at the climax, and the ice cracking causes additional problems for those trying to move across it.

 

We do not really get a glimpse at the everyday lives of the residents of Arundel. A few days worth of surprise winter would not necessarily cause a tremendous hardship for people living in a place that resembles Norway… except for the fact that it appears to come in mid-summer, and thus would’ve entirely disrupted the growing season. (That said, we don’t actually see farmers here – it is unclear what the livelihood of Arundel is based on.) This is set in a previous century, so the people avoid what would be the most annoying aspects of winter for most (although not all) Americans today, the need to drive automobiles in it.

Given that Elsa actually has magical powers, this film can present things that we cannot see in reality. As she becomes comfortable with her power and winter, her creations grow elegant and beautiful. This development of control implies that winter is good when it is controlled properly by humans. Which is, on the whole, correct for humans, a useful reminder that the way we can best appreciate winter involves being careful and making use of the infrastructure and technology we have. But there is also an awkward aspect here, given that humans cannot actually control the weather – that is an unrealistic goal, which could lead people to make decisions with problematic consequences.

 

“I never knew winter could be so beautiful,” Anna says when she sees Elsa’s castle. Kristoff, who we know both is an expert on ice, and someone who spent time among ice-harvesters who are aware of the beauty of ice, is overwhelmed – “Now that’s ice… I might cry,” he says. This is one of the themes of the film (and a theme I cherish) – people do not realize the beauty winter can provide.

And her castle truly is beautiful. Architecturally, it is unlike any other I have seen. The creativity – by Elsa within the world of the film, by the animators in reality – is impressive. The castle remains slippery and spiky, dangerous for those other than Elsa. The chaos ends, replaced by creations which are startlingly patterned, when she takes control. (Notice how the stairway goes from spiky to smooth when she steps on it asserts her vision.) It has high-arcing stairways, startlingly vertical aspects of high-ceilinged rooms. “Frozen fractals all around” – her castle builds strongly on patterns, but not the type normally seen in architecture. This is just one example of how the movie regularly shows us the beauty of ice and snow. It suggests that ice can be beautiful, particularly when it is smooth.

At the end of the film, with greater control, she creates things that are easier to appreciate on a human scale. Instead of a castle isolated from others, she goes out and creates something appreciated by a courtyard full of people. The ice rink and ice sculptures she creates actually demonstrate some of key ways people can enjoy winter in the city. (The ice-fireworks, on the other hand, are beautiful but fantasies.)

A lot of pop culture (and nonfiction) about snowscapes focuses on polar and near-polar regions. This film is different – while it appears to be set somewhere that is near the Arctic, it drops snow out of season. Animation has a fondness for snow (as I discuss in my post “Snow in Animated TV Christmas Specials: Imagined Joys of Winter”), and it can more easily depict snow than non-animation. In an animated film, the director doesn’t need to worry about vicissitudes of weather, about trying to get the look just right, avoid melting, avoid grey slush… Indeed, is there some kind of special relationship between animation and winter? Christmas specials make up a large percentage of animation shown on network television, and many of them feature wintry landscapes. They, too, often suggest, at least briefly, the dangers of winter – the Winter Warlock, the Bumble and the storm that almost grounds Santa in “Rudolph,” Winterbolt, and Karen facing dangers of cold in Frosty. But what they emphasize is its calm pleasantry, including the fun children have with snow, presenting snow scenes as objects of warm, nostalgic charm.

 

Key to what happens in this film is the freezing of things. Truly, this is a film where the title really does signal a lot about what we will see! So there’s an implicit interest in the frozen; the movie directs our attention to it, has us impressed by it. The plot suggests we should feel uneasy with it, but that in the end we can find a way to manage it effectively. Curiously, freezing provides deliverance at the key moment – Anna freezing allows her to avoid being killed by the sword she jumped in the way as she saves Elsa, and thus it enables both sisters to be saved. But on the whole, it does present a proper sense of the dangers of such weather.

But I think that perhaps the main message “Frozen” sends, in practice, about winter, is – that looks cool! And exciting. As often occurs, a stronger message is spent by what the film chooses to spend time on, and have central to the plot, than by messages it tries to send outside of that. Here, we are both told that characters find the winter scenes beautiful – and we are shown winter that IS beautiful, with fresh snow not yet broken up by melting or yet mixed with dirt (or, of course, car wastes). There’s a LOT of snow in here, so there’s a lot of viewer attention directed to it, a lot of time looking at a variety of beautiful wintry weather. “Frozen” doesn’t hide the dangers of winter, but it also takes us on a trip through the outdoors, giving us the chance to open our minds and hearts up to the beauty winter weather has to offer.

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Residential Snow

Residential Snow: How winter is experienced in residential-home neighborhoods

As I continue to how we experience snow, I want to reflect in this essay on how Americans experience snow in neighborhoods primarily made up of residential homes. How do such private spaces shape our experience of winter? What opportunities (like the ability to look at snow-covered lawns) do they provide to appreciate snow?

Much of the space in the places where Americans spend most of their ‘home’-time consists of residential space, taken up by single-household detached homes. These plots take up much of the land in the suburbs, as well as notable proportions of cities and small towns. (As well as being home to most of the home-experiences of many residents in the portions of our rural and exurban places, those who primarily spend time in their yards rather than other land they own.)

A key aspect of such neighborhoods is that they primarily consist of private spaces for each houseowner. In these places, snow is experienced and managed on a series of small plots of land, on which the homeowners can choose how to manage snow.

While residents have a lot of control over their land, there are places where residents have little discretion about how to manage snow. The driveways are private, yes. But basically all of them are managed the same – residents do not have much of a choice, they need to remove most of the snow and ice from the driveway soon after it covers the driveway.

Some public spaces do exist in these areas. For instance, perhaps the primary experience of such spaces involves driving on public roads. Given that these areas tend to be auto-reliant in the modern U.S. (particularly given how long it would take to walk to public transit, or locations outside the neighborhood), driveways and roads take up significant proportions of the landscape.

Perhaps the least appealing parts of winter have to do with driving, and with the need to maintain these spaces for cars. Think of the effort spent shoveling driveways, and the dangers of driving during wintry weather. Visually, roads are perhaps the least appealing areas of the snowscape – the grey-spotted piles along the roadside, the slushy zones which lend themselves to splattering and to freezing over. Our transportation systems direct us to spend a lot of time on these roads (particularly if one lives in one of these neighborhoods), sitting near the ugliest parts of winter.

In some neighborhoods, sidewalks (or other paths, for bikes and walking and other uses) exist, but that depends on the neighborhood. How those spaces can be used also varies significantly – often, they are either inaccessible (when residents don’t shovel their section), slippery (given frequent melting and icing over), and/or require effort to trod through in boots (if not cleared carefully enough). So while these areas can offer a different kind of experience of snow in such neighborhoods, they do not always do so in practice. (Instead, people often end up walking in the streets – which can be as unpleasant, as I noted above.)

What might we think about as we walk on such sidewalks? Footprints on the sidewalk can be fun marks to observe. They show that others have been out – and perhaps we can see signs of play that suggest some of our neighbors enjoyed their walk! Paw prints demonstrate that dogs have been walked here. (Indeed, I might write an entire post reflecting on the role dog-walking plays in shaping the experience of winter.) Sidewalks can also lead us to think about community and responsibility – how responsible are people in such areas for helping keep their community’s paths open for their neighbors?

Parks also play an important role, here as elsewhere. Having a park one can walk to on a snowy day can make a big difference in whether that day is experienced as a special treat, or as a day when a person is confined with little space for play. Homeownership offers the opportunity to let children play in a yard, so those possessing private spaces for winter appreciation don’t need public spaces as much. (Contrast this with denser urban areas – those who in live in apartments have a greater need for public spaces, if they want to experience nature.) But for other opportunities, particularly those which adults and teenagers would enjoy, the accessibility of a park is still a big deal. I regularly see children sledding down a hill in a local park; sledding basically requires parkspace. How many of these children can walk to the park with their sleds, and how many have to be driven there? How easy is it to walk or drive there if the streets have only been partly cleared? Similarly, the ability to take a walk through a snow-covered park might enable someone to feel much more enclosed in the experience of snow than walking down the street, or looking out at one’s backyard, does.

I grew up here. I spent my youth seeing these lawns covered with snow. These are atypical smooth sweeps of snow, of the kind only found in a limited number of places, particularly outside of rural areas. Often, households appear to have a pretty limited interest in using the outdoor space during winter. (Particularly if they do not have children; I discuss children’s uses of snow below.) Even in wild fields and farm fields, we do not tend to see such sweeps of snow, because the grasses there have not been not mowed down as much as the grasses in residential areas have been, so there is more vertical contrast.

The impression lawns leave is actually a pretty memorable one. For weeks at a time, the landscape stays white instead of green. These spaces are much more appealing to look at than the snow on the streets. And they take up much of the landscape. One can dreamily look over these mini-fields in the morning, or as one enjoys the warmth of the indoors at night. One can feel enclosed in a small refuge, surrounded by the cold and the reflective snow.

If kids aren’t playing in it, the snow is often just left alone. Adults tend to have little interest in managing what their lawnspace looks like during winter. People do a lot to manage the lawn during summer, but when growing season ends and snow falls, things change. I sometimes amuse myself when I look into such lawns as I ride by by noting what types of lawn furniture, grills, toys and more have a layer of snow on them, and what that covering transforms them into.

Trees can offer appealing visual markers, when residents have them. They provide contrast and interest to the landscape. When (non-evergreen) trees lose leaves during winter, residential (as well as business and shopping areas) look quite different. There is less of a sense of green space, more of a sense that humans and their buildings dominate the landscape. We can see through to things that we couldn’t see when leaves were in way. But even bare trees are particularly exciting during and after certain snowfalls, since their branches can hold snow, which leads to some of the most beautiful winter moments. Evergreens, of course, have a special relationship to Christmas, and we are thus particularly fond of looking at them during winter.

One group does often make use of this turf – children. Building snowmen, building snowforts, running around during snowball fights, playing catch with a football – these and other activities leave their tracks on the lawns. Particularly for a younger child, given their size, these lawns can feel like pretty ample canvases for transformation, and mark off a notable distance from the surrounding houses.

So how do we experience nature in these areas, which take up so much of the space Americans regularly inhabit? Most residents stay indoors most of the time during winter. They can, if they choose to, be inspired by the snow on their lawns. Most adult residents do little with the snow other than clearing it from paths – the driveway and a path to the front door and/or mailbox. Most of their experience of snow here is confined to their own lawn, and to the roads. Children find opportunities for play, but adults typically spend little time outside their yard, unless they are going for a run or walking the dog.

There are opportunities to appreciate certain kinds of winter beauty, particularly that of trees and bushes covered in snow above a flat plane of snow on the lawn. I hope that residents in these neighborhoods will remember to take those opportunities – I hope they remember to keep looking out at the beauty of the world around them during wintertime.

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What Central Park taught me about Appreciating Winter in the City

Last January, I had the chance to visit New York City for the first time. As a champion of winter appreciation in the city (see my “Why write about winter in the city”), I of course was curious to see how I might experience winter in our nation’s largest city. I feel that I got a nice sampler – there was a little snow left when we arrived, which mostly melted… and then our stay ended with a snowfall, which I particularly enjoyed during a magical afternoon in Central Park.

Here are some of the conclusions which, after that trip, I reached about what cities can do to help create a space for people to appreciate snow.

1. Create a destination that enables fun during winter, and winter appreciation. Central Park is clearly a draw, a place that people want to go to. There is a lot here to appreciate, a lot to entice people to come here. This is the kind of place that can motivate people to get outside during winter.

2. Make that place accessible. Particularly to public transportation. I was able to take the subway right to the edge of Central Park. On a day when it was snowing, that was convenient. If we want to be able to appreciate the beauty of winter, it helps to be able to easily get to the more beautiful locations.

On the other hand, in other cities I have found it more difficult to appreciate the snow. I regularly will think ‘I should go check out the snow in X park’… but then realize ‘oh, but where would I park’? We shouldn’t have to rely on driving our cars to get to a park where we can enjoy nature. We shouldn’t have to worry about driving – perhaps the least enjoyable part of winter in American cities! – in order to get to a place where we can appreciate winter.

3. Have a diverse range of places to appreciate. Central Park has both plazas and forests. It has a “ramble” which provides a ‘wilder’ feeling, and it also has a little castle to climb. Not to mention the broader experience of New York City, which has this great park, but also smaller neighborhood ones. It also has spaces which draw people out in public like Times Square, and plenty of streets on which to watch people.

Not everyone will be drawn to the same kind of winter experience, so provide a variety of options. One of the strengths of urban life is its ability to provide a lot of diversity of people and experiences within a relatively small area. (And to, as my previous point suggests, make it relatively easy to travel to via sustainable transportation.)

4. Have enough park space. In downtown areas, there is often little space to appreciate snow. There are few places where snow can be left to accumulate. Roads, sidewalks, and buildings take up so much of the space of a downtown area that there is little space left on downtown streets. When those areas are cleared of snow, where do we spot snow? (That is a question I tend to spend a fair amount of time on, when I head out to take pictures of snow in the city!) The amount of ledges, and plaza spaces, is pretty limited. It is hard to feel like one is in a winter city – and hard to appreciate snow – if one cannot see snow. So parkspace, with lawn or plaza space where the snow can be left setting where it fell, plays a notable role.

This can come from a lot of small park spaces, or it can come from large ones like Central Park. (Here in Wisconsin, UW-Madison’s Arboretum performs a similar impressive function, as does Whitnall Park in Milwaukee County.) This feel might come from greenway-type paths, although the planners would need to manage the greenway in a way that leaves greenspace which will not be cleared of snow.

5. Be creative – have visitors doing creative things. We saw a tiny snowman, a few inches tall, which proved memorable and cute. Larger snowmen do the trick too. We were surprised and amused to see someone posing in a pink tutu while the snow fell. These kinds of clever acts – not even necessarily large ones – help provide community warmth and charm, and give a sense that people are out, and looking to have fun, during winter.

This includes people enjoying themselves doing normal activities like taking engagement photos. Seeing people participate in such activities both gives a sense that such activities go on – and provides a neat glimpse of how they look when snow is falling, a different spin on the activity.

Walking in Central Park reminded me of how important a role our public parks play in enabling our appreciation of winter. I hope that cities across the snow belt can help their residents appreciate their cities, year-round, by providing the space, creativity, and diversity which help open us up to what the seasons have to offer!

 

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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!

 

(Related: https://milwaukeesnow.com/snow-in-art-and-literature/)

 

 

 

Posted in Reflections, Winter in Popular Culture | 2 Comments

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.’

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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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