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.

About MilwaukeeSnow

Dr. Jeffrey Filipiak, Milwaukee's Ambassador of Snow, loves winter, Milwaukee, and environmental history! He has taught college courses on topics including history, writing, environmental ethics, food studies, the Great Lakes, and sustainability. You can contact him at ambassadorofsnow@gmail.com.
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