Watching the snow: images of beauty I find in shadow patterns

Perhaps the leading theme of my snow photographs is the patterns I try to capture. What shadows are trees casting? There are so many different arrangements of branches, snow drifts, brush, and other things that keep recreating new patterns to find with each new day.

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I will walk along, and watch for what catches my eye; where I see lines drawn out. What little wonders are there to see? Scenes can be enjoyed in the moment – they can be captured in pictures. On another day, perhaps the snow would’ve been higher, the plants bent differently… but on the day I took the previous picture, I found this lovely balance of rounded brown plants and rounded shadows; two sets of lines with the same source, but with differences that make this a striking ‘mirroring.’

There are plenty of nooks and niches where one can find scenes like the one below:

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How does the angle of the sun, and the drifting of the snow, bend shadows? How do they cross each other, how does a web develop? How does a mixture of faint and deep shadows develop? This day was one of the many bright sunny winter days – a good time to watch sunlight sparkle off the snow! (That sparkling I do not believe can ever fully be captured on film – it needs to be enjoyed in the moment.

On some days, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of patterns left behind:

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Let us hope we all can leave a legacy of tracks as rhythmic and elegant as these 🙂

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To find the most patterns… head off into the woods. You can watch how paths and tracks cross them; or you can capture images of fresh snow. With the sun at the right angle, patterns can stretch on and on… (on the edge of a frozen lake, on and on without interruption). There’s a surprising amount of shading here. And more variety than one might realize; the snow drifts, but it also curves to follow what is underneath, to an extent.

On the day I took that last photo, I was entertained to see the changes in shadow patterns as the sun moved across the sky. At first, I focused on the white of snow, while watching to see which marks the trees lay down. As the sun went down in the sky, shadows appeared to grow longer. But even moreso, the area of shadow grew; it felt blockier. Eventually, the snow was mostly shadowed; at that point, the rays of white were what stuck out.

This winter’s continued cold means that our snow cover has lasted. How much longer it will last, we don’t know. It is the snow, after all, that creates these sharp contrasts of white and shadow, which we would not see in any other season. So I hope you get out soon and take a look for the patterns you can find!

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Walk Across Lake Winnebago: impressions from my first time crossing the ice

This is one of the more unusual Wisconsin winter activities I have heard of. Hundreds of people covering the width of Lake Winnebago by walking across it? I was excited to try this out the year I heard about it… but unfortunately, our stretch of recent mild winters meant that the walk had to be called off the past two years. This year, I got my chance! So my ladyfriend and I headed out.

The Walk Across Lake Winnebago began with a bus ride to take us to the opposite side of the lake. This was a bus full of adults, and so partying was key to the atmosphere, and the discussion.

These were people who came ready for a winter event. People were dressed warmly; properly prepared. Throughout the event, I did not hear anyone complain about being cold. What a relief for me, after all the complaints the media and casual conversation make about how intimidating and unpleasant they find winter, to be around plenty of people ready to go out into winter like it’s no big deal!

And this was no event for the hard-core only. Yes, it involved walking eight miles, and doing so while wrapped up in winter clothes. But this was no race, it did not involve testing one’s extreme abilities. It was a lot of average people ready to have a nice walk outdoors… in the middle of winter. For 2-3 hours. In temperatures around 10 degrees. On a snowy path across a frozen lake.

When the bus arrived on the eastern side, we then had to walk (perhaps a mile?) from our drop-off point to the lake itself. I was a little nervous about the walk at this point, since the road we walked on was fairly slushy and slippery. I did appreciate this portion from a landscape-encounter perspective: this is a lake which is bordered by cliffs on one side, so it felt appropriate to begin by walking down a hill to get to the lake.

The walk over the lake itself proved smoother. The path was not slushy. There was a plowed road across, two lanes wide, easy to walk on. Actually, these seemed to be roughly ideal walking-across-lake-conditions; enough snow for traction (rarely did I see exposed ice), since walking on the ice itself would have been trickier.DSC06807

Since the road was plowed, there were borders (1-2 feet high, often) on each side. (Until the last mile or so, which did not follow the main road across the lake, and thus was less level, and narrower.) So the route felt prepared, and somewhat contained. I stepped off to the side a few times to soak in the feeling of the frozen lake a bit more, and sat on the side too. I don’t recall if I saw anyone else doing that.

As far as ‘knowing nature through labor’: I now know the width of lake via my own effort! It gives me some pride, and greater awareness of my area, to know the size of this lake through my effort.

This was longest distance I’ve ever walked while being able to see the whole distance most of the way, shore to shore. As you might image – or have experienced from canoeing or swimming – the size of the shores changed *slowly,* progress takes effort. I said “most” of the time: at times, snow would block out shores… so I just knew I had to walk further than I could see!

I have mentioned the road, and we got plenty of glimpses of how, when the lake is frozen enough, it is used for transportation. I have some experience of this from the lake my grandparents lived on, but not on such a large scale. We certainly did not feel isolated out on the lake. (My pictures are somewhat misleading, in part because I wanted to capture the depth, not the groups of walkers closest to us; with a steady stream of walkers, we always felt amidst company.) Along with the road, there was a constant set of tracks we could see on both sides of us. There were many ice-fishing shanties to see, grouped primarily in a few locations. Vehicles used the road, too; several dozen trucks passed us.

Also, there was a line of old Christmas trees marking a route, perhaps fifty yards from the road itself. For the unfamiliar, sticking such trees on the lake, at regular distances, provides a convenient way for drivers to identify the path across a lake (particularly when it covers such a distance).

Along with that, there were the social spots – these are Wisconsinites in winter, after all! People used to ice-fishing and Lambeau Field are going to have themselves a good time on a winter walk, too! (See https://milwaukeesnow.com/2014/01/27/culture-of-cold-at-packer-games-lambeau-fans-and-cold-weather/ for related reflections of mine.) People, including at least one biker, hauled beers on sleds; apple pie shots; and beer and brats waiting for us when we crossed the lake! This felt very much in the tailgating tradition. There were, if I recall correctly, and three spots where people gathered and hung out a bit (or waited in line for restrooms, at least), highlighted by the halfway point, where dozens of people hung out.

It was a friendly group. One person saw me resting, asked if I was ok, and offered me some water (should’ve come prepared…) I appreciated that generosity, as well as the casual, friendly tone of other walkers who I heard from. People weren’t in much of a rush, so they could talk on their way.

Thinking about it, participants put in an impressive effort, especially for such an unusual thing. We know the kind of credit we assign to, say, marathoners, or fun run participants. But for this? People spending 2-3 hours constantly on their feet, light exercise, often with fairly weighty clothes. And while this wasn’t bitterly cold, it was cold – my cheeks did get pretty chilled at points, and I was glad that I came dressed warm. How many other people walk – not drive, snowmobile, canoe, sail, snowshoe, etc – across such a distance in winter?

What moved me the most were some magic moments near the middle when snow started falling at a decent rate… and the shorelines disappeared! I stopped to look around, to soak it in. I started from the shore, and now here I was, able to see snow-flats around me, snow falling near me, snow-fuzziness in the distance. But for all I could see there, there was no world around me except for that snow 🙂 I let my mind roam a little. (If I get the chance again, I’ll wonder longer…)

This was an encounter with the wildness of winter. The chance to look off into the distance, see the sky aflight and abuzz, and feel stirrings of hope that something wonderful exists beyond… and knowing in my heart that something wonderful *does* exist there, the opportunity to be surrounded by such a globe of whirling snow. (And I was not alone in doing so, hundreds of people chose to immerse themselves.)

This is a moment I have longed for. I have had related moments on Milwaukee lakeshore, when all I could see was the nearby forest and some of the lake ice. But this moment felt further out. Here, I could kind of imagine that I was off on some epic journey, to who knows where… I was in the midst of a step into a temporarily unknowable (if not trackless) world. I cast about for an epic to match this with in my mind. (I did get a better sense of the battlefield Alexander Nevsky managed…) And yet, there was a steady stream of people ahead of me and behind me, sharing the trek, so it wasn’t so lonely-heroic. (Plus, if I looked in the right directions, I could see a few ice shanties and automobiles in the distance.)

So thanks to the organizers for giving me the change to feel that magic in the middle of the lake – and to do so in the midst of my own effort, and to do so safely. And thanks to the participants for being willing to take the time and effort to have a good time in the middle of winter… in the middle of a lake!DSC06825

[Note: I later wrote a piece you can check out on the history of the Walk,]

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Value of patience during Winter

Winter is a season that rewards patience. Those who are impatient are more likely to get frustrated – and less likely to appreciate what the season has to offer.

What are some of the situations in which patience is a winter virtue?

So you budget enough time to clean your car off, and to get it running.

So you have enough time to get places, and do not have worry about rushing. (Dangerous driving conditions are not a good time to feel compelled to rush.)

So you have enough time to get dressed; and to take off that warm clothing when you get to your destination. (This is also an issue for summer heat, with swimsuits and sunscreen, don’t forget. But most people don’t seem to see *that* as as much of a hassle, I think?)

So you have time to strap on skis and snowshoes, before heading out to enjoy the snow.

So you don’t get annoyed at winter. If carving out a few extra minutes to deal with these issues would have allowed you to keep a more even tone, remember to revise your schedule. (With all the conveniences we have, technology that lets us avoid many of the more drastic measures people took to deal with winter in the past… the more minor adjustments we have to make do not seem like such a big deal to me.)

Perhaps most importantly: so you have time to appreciate winter. Find time for a walk. If you rush through the less pleasant parts of winter, your experience will focus on that. If you make sure to budget time so you can get out and play and observe, your winter perspective will include positive images and memories which you can draw on. Winter won’t provide its moments of beauty (or its moments to, say, build a snowperson) on a schedule, so you’ll need the patience to adapt to that. But I hope you will appreciate the benefits of being patient!

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Culture of Cold at Packer games: Lambeau fans and Cold Weather

I went to two Packer games this season, on December 22 vs. Pittsburgh and the January 4 playoff game vs. San Francisco. Few other events get as many people outside for as long in the cold as Packer games do. So I wanted to reflect a little on how Packer fans have a good time in the cold weather: how do Wisconsin residents adapt to the ‘frozen tundra’ experience? Are Packer fans crazy? Why do we take pride in sitting (and drinking) in the cold?

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Before the 49er game, there was a lot of media attention given to the potential for extreme cold, the possibility that it might be the coldest NFL game ever. (It ended up around 20 degrees away from being the coldest. A huge difference.) Some writers still found the single-digit temperatures intimidating: Will Leitch said of Lambeau attendees “I can guarantee you an extreme few of them had a good time.” But for those who, unlike Leitch, actually attended the game… well, from what I saw, the weather actually didn’t seem to affect people that much. Sure, people were somber after the Packers lost. But did they have fun before and during the game? Yes, it looked like they had plenty.

At the first game, I talked some about the weather with my neighbors in the stands, but that likely had a lot to do with the fact that I sat with several family members. At the second game, I heard few comments from fans about the weather. Hard to imagine, perhaps, with all the coverage the media gave this oncoming polar vortex, but it wasn’t a big topic for the fans. I spent well over an hour riding a bus back and forth to the second game, and little of the discussion there had to do with the cold, either. People did discuss the cold when it was time to head on out from the bus, but they sounded fairly practical: not complaining, just discussing what they would be wearing, and preparing to head on out. (With a little touch of ‘whoa, this is pretty cold,’ to be sure.)

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Was I cold at the games? Well, during the first game, my seat was high up, and my face got chilly at times, but the rest of my body was ok (and I underdressed a little). For the second game, I ended up being fine: my feet got cold at points, but the free hand-warmers eventually warmed those up.

So how did the fans handle this? Well, we live in Wisconsin. We’re used to being in cold weather, to going out into it. (Perhaps sportswriters like Leitch, a native of central Illinois, are not so used to this?) So yea, you’ve got to put a lot of clothes on. Yea, it takes some time to work through those layers when you’re in the restrooms. But people already acquire warm clothes for outdoor winter activities: we like our hunting, snowmobiling, skiing, and more. (Is Leitch familiar with ice-fishing?) So, you can take those clothes and wear them to the Packer game! (Setting this game apart, to be fair, was the fact that a notable portion of the fans sat under blankets.) And that sets the ‘style’ people are looking to achieve 😉

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Some of those activities I mentioned involve sitting for long stretches, so people get practice at that outside of Packer games, too. That said, a nice thing about the playoff game was that the intensity level was high enough that I got to stand for much of the game; that allows one to move around more, and I find that movement makes a big difference in providing warmth when one is out in cold weather.

As for me – most of the Packer games I go to are in December and January. So I’m kind of used to feeling a chilly wind on my face as the music kicks in, as the crowd gets up to roar… and it seems a little odd to me when I got a game and I *don’t* feel that cold 😉

So people like me head on out – and yea, we’ll talk a little about how ‘whoa, this is cold’ and ‘yea, we’re kinda weird for doin this’… but mostly, it’s a game, and we’re goin! Indeed, I think one could say that that Packer fans look at the cold as somewhat of a point of pride. The fact that our team plays on a ‘frozen tundra’ on occasion (the Ice Bowl providing the epic extreme) – and that fans sit around them as they do so – becomes something that shapes a Packer fan identity as ‘people who can deal with the weather / the cold.’

And an identity as people who are dedicated, who will go out, support what they are loyal to, hang out with their friends, tailgate, enjoy themselves – even when the temperatures are around zero. This is part of the identity fans and media coverage alike promote in relation to Lambeau. Why not adopt it as a general perspective on our state throughout winter? Instead of thinking of cold and snow as things that might get in our way – we can be proud of the ways we adapt to the weather. We are loyal, we enjoy ourselves, in all kinds of weather. Winter just provides us with some distinctive means of doing so. Let us keep that spirit alive, at Lambeau and elsewhere as well!

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January 25 and 26: Great Weekend for Winter Celebrations!

Taking time out to get outdoors is an important part of winter appreciation. Here’s a great chance to enjoy winter with others who are ready to celebrate it too! Make some happy winter memories 🙂 Get out while the sun is high, when the snow sparkles and you can see shadows, while things are bright… or take a candlelit ski, and enjoy the age-old magic of fires providing light, as you get close to the darkness of winter. (See my preceding post for more on winter and darkness.) Here are a few links providing examples of how to enjoy winter this weekend:

Winterfest with the Urban Ecology Center, Sunday, Milwaukee http://urbanecologycenter.org/index.php?option=com_serviceu&view=event&id=6085&Itemid=191 (For some images of a past version, see: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.288574494531200.71878.136469736408344&type=3)

Winter Carnival at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Milwaukee County, Sunday

Winterfest in Green Bay, Saturday http://www.onbroadway.org/winterfest

Winterfest in Beloit, Saturday http://www.visitbeloit.com/events/calendar_event?event_id=2005

Eagle Days at 1000 Islands Nature Center in Fox Cities, Saturday http://www.1000islandsenvironmentalcenter.org/pages/eagle-days-2014.html

Check out http://www.wisconsintrails.com/travel/candlelight-events-warm-wisconsins-winter-b99184030z1-240863361.html for mentions of candlelit ski/hike events at Kettle Moraine, Point Beach, and Governor Dodge State Park.

And starting next week, the national snow sculpting competition, held in Lake Geneva: http://www.lakegenevawi.com/Events/EventDetails.aspx?id=2808 I enjoyed the snow sculptures at Racine’s Big Chill once again – here’s another chance to see sculptors at work!

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Appreciating darkness during winter

I plan to spend some time during the rest of this winter appreciating what winter nights have to offer. I have been reading “Let there be night: testimony on behalf of the night,” edited by Paul Bogard, an interesting book that reminds me of many of the “gifts of darkness.”

Winter has the longest nights of the year. So it has the most darkness for us to face. As with cold and snow, I propose that we should try to take advantage of what winter has to offer.

Most Americans today live in communities where lighting is so extensive that our perspectives on night become limited. We can no longer see many stars; we no longer feel the deep spaces far beyond us, and night loses some of its power. Certainly this is a problem in a metropolitan area like Milwaukee, although I did find a number of nights each year when I could see over a hundred stars while walking along the lakeshore.

But the darkness has something to offer; it can help us reflect both inwardly, and outwardly. We can look outward, because looking at distant stars can remind us that our place in the universe is but a small one. A reminder that can be unsettling at times, admittedly. Similarly, stepping out into the cold reminds us that just because most humans choose to stay indoors does not mean that the world stops; other creatures continue their lives even in the bitter cold. Much exists beyond our comfort zones, whether it is the temperature or the distance that unsettles us. We need such reminders.

Darkness also provides a chance to look inward. What would a spiritual ‘dark night of the soul’ be like without a long dark to be part of? If winter leads us to be indoors more often, we can use that time for productive reflection. If we can’t see much looking out our windows at night, then turn the eye inward, to see what we can discover in our hearts and minds. (TVs and warm houses are pleasures, but we need to step away from them and rely on our own imagination, and our own body heat, at points.)

And do not forget the pleasures snow can bring to darkness. I have recently enjoyed sitting at my window and looking out at the mix of shadow and glow that I can see as the moon casts its spell over the landscape. Snow’s reflective properties provide a luminous quality to the floor of the landscape, a quality not there during other seasons. Sometimes I might just look out at that dim radiance amidst the darkness. At other points, I focus on the shadows of trees, something else one cannot normally see at night.

I hope to return to this topic after a month or so. Until then, I hope that you as well as I will spend some time appreciating what we can find in the dark.

 

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Winter in 2014: re-introducing the MilwaukeeSnow page

I wanted to welcome readers back, to the 4th winter of my project to increase appreciation of what winter has to offer in Milwaukee and Wisconsin! We are approaching a period of bitter cold, when patience with winter may be difficult to find… but I hope you will keep looking for positives to appreciate. Unlike some of the past few winters, this time we have received cold and snowy weather early on in the season, and some of that should stick around a while for us to check out later!

This started off as a Facebook page designed to share my enthusiasm for winter: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Snow-bound-enjoying-Winter-and-Milwaukee/136469736408344

During the 2nd year, I expanded the project, with a new title: Milwaukee’s Ambassador of Snow!

It has continued since then, on a somewhat smaller scale, as a means to share my thoughts, and interesting links. I also have expanded my area of interest, covering material from throughout Wisconsin.

 

This year, I have found that the Snow Addiction page is doing a strong job of covering general material, so I am going to cut back on that some to focus more on local stuff. You can follow them at http://www.snowaddiction.org/ ; and on Facebook, where they’ve posted links to a lot of nice photos.

I want to plug a new book that should be of particular interest to my readers: Jerry Apps’ 2013 book about winters in rural Wisconsin: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whspres/books/book.asp?book_id=413

 

Check the ‘about’ section for more on this project. For examples of my favorite posts, and my ‘statements of purpose,’ see https://milwaukeesnow.com/category/highlighted-posts/

I also want to ask for your input. Feel free to share links to others’ blog posts or articles that celebrate Wisconsin nature and other winter highlights. In particular – if you wrote something, let me know! (I would also be interested in having guest posts, if people have things they would like to share.)

In the comments section here, on Facebook, or elsewhere, I would be happy to hear: what are favorite spots everyone should know? What are examples of out of way magic moments you have encountered, which remind us to look to see what our areas have to offer?

Keep looking on the snowy side, stay safe, and happy winter!

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Return to Winter: Minor Adventures, and Our Limits Transgressed

Winter weather has been back in Wisconsin for a while now! Now that the season has formally become, it feels like time to think about what I feel as I once again have the chance to get out in the cold, snow, and the mysterious architecture that winter offers…

Thoreau writes in Walden that “we need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.” Winter provides us with a great opportunity to see these limits transgressed; to challenge our bodies and our minds to deal with what remains, at least in part, beyond us.

So much of what makes winter both frustrating and wonderful are the moments when winter goes beyond the neat boxes we are used to. Drifts that do not stick to property markers. Ice that does not stick to ‘lake’ or ‘shore,’ but covers both. Snow days that insist that people avoid their scheduled plans. Snowstorms, when the ceiling turns white, the air becomes visible, and the ground is constantly transforming. The limits we place on the landscape no longer seem to apply, at least temporarily. We might want to limit weather, to certain parts of the landscape or to certain categories. But it resists our attempts to do so, and winter weather provides our most regular reminders of this in Wisconsin.

The ‘blanket’ metaphor comes to mind often when I look out at an expanse of snow. And yet… how accurate is that metaphor, and for how many places? In most places, trees, brush, grass, rocks, other objects stick above the layer of snow, and/or disrupt the even sheet. It is not so much a blanket as…

I can’t quite come up with an analogy that satisfies me. But I’ll work on it 😉 What coats a majority of a surface, but has many exceptions poking above it? A flood might provide the best parallel, but without the ‘sticking to branches and roofs’ aspect.

The areas which feel most ‘blanketed’ are areas which we have tried to fit within our limits. Lawns, in particular. (Farm fields might appear close to this, particularly when snow is deep, but they tend to have too much stubble to be fully covered.) Park surfaces that are mowed low, and large suburban yards, provide the most striking examples of ‘snow fully covers what is below.’ Ironically, some of the places that look most nature-dominated in winter are that way because they are so tightly human-controlled the rest of the year. But snow transgresses.

From a different angle: some of the least appealing winter scenes – grey slush on the borders of roads – is weather not staying within the bounds we desire. We don’t see that kind of slush away from roads. This is a case where, as I understand it, externalities of roads and technology are made visible in a way they normally aren’t; things we normally can push out of sight stick around. And we don’t like to see that.

As the end of Thoreau’s quote suggests, life does manage to persist out there. Not fully freely, perhaps, since weather challenges and constrains animals, but they do continue on with their ways. We can watch the birds and squirrels and deer who persist outdoors; if we are lucky, we can see foxes and coyotes and others. They remain outdoors in winter, and find ways to survive.

Other limits winter challenges are those of comfort. What makes it irritating to walk outside in winter? In what ways does the weather not allow us to exist within the limits we prefer? My face is cool. Other parts of the body overheat and sweat. This is not the type of body behavior we prefer; but the nature in our bodies, and in the weather, does not follow all our wishes. (For most of us in Wisconsin, we can afford kind of clothing to keep us warm enough – we should not have to face real risk in winter. Not all can afford what they need to stay warm, but this is a challenge provided by our society, not by weather.)

Some might find it irritating to have to dress up to go outdoors. Well, we put a fair amount of effort into dressing for a variety of events, don’t we? Yes, winter outfits are perhaps less likely to show off our ‘style’ – and definitely less likely our figures. We are constrained – weather requires us to focus on function, not form.

On a different note, I am reminded of a phrase Gandalf says to Bilbo in the Hobbit, about what happens if Bilbo transgresses his limits and goes on an adventure: “and if you [return], you will not be the same.” I have a fondness for fictional adventures that involve travelling through a range of places; and overcoming significant obstacles. Where can we find such adventures in our lives? We should travel to different places; learn from diverse ways, learn by encountering what we are familiar. And we should learn new things. In our own places, there is still much we can learn from – different restaurants, stores, cultural events; do not forget those during winter.

My focus, of course, is on going outdoors in winter. Different ice forms appear on the shores – what appears varies. Part of adventure; can be only person who has ever looked at something. Because no one else might have come out yet after a snow. (Or during a snow.) Given how rapidly things can change, you might be the only person ever to see a scene. Particularly if you take trouble to lie down and find odd angles to look at things, like I am known to do…

We can transgress the limits we might place on ourselves – comfort, ease, fashion – to remain outdoorspeople year-round. And then we can see what nature might have to say to us about how it remains a force with something to say outside of our desires.

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Loving my place, and the Wildness that comes to it

In his influential essay “The Trouble with Wilderness,” historian William Cronon worried that environmentalists thought too much about the idea of wilderness – which he felt directed their attention away from other places, and made it difficult for them to appreciate nature in other places. He proposed that environmentalists instead focus on an idea of home.

I think that appreciating snowstorms (and to some extent, snow in general) allows me to look at things from both the point of view of those who experience wilderness, and Cronon’s perspective. Much of my purpose here is to help people realize all that they can appreciate in their own communities. Part of what people can appreciate are ‘wild’ qualities – nature overturning constraints, remaking the landscape, showing its power through storms. One can find quiet moments, sublime moments, and strange experiences while enjoying snow.

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Snow provides a bit of the sublime – one could feel this in mountains or oceans, wild places, things beyond human scale. Think of the beauty one sees in places that can be dangerous, such as the film of “Life of Pi” strikingly depicted. Polar places can be dangerous – and so can anyplace where the temperatures drop well below freezing.

But even a city park, if one steps out into cold, supplies a bit of such distancing. One is conscious that it will take minutes, maybe 15 minutes or more, to safely cross a small area. Distance reasserts itself. No grass can be seen, so the only signs of life are trees at a distance. One will likely hear sounds of machines in distance, but might see no one moving.

Walking (or snowshoeing) so slowly can be disorienting in some ways. Particularly when one gets used to moving quickly. I’m spending 20 minutes just to move around a tiny park I can easily see around? That I could run across in 1 minute? But it gives one a chance to appreciate a small area intensely, to slow down to a pace where one can see what it has to offer. (Sometimes those I walk with have difficulty slowing down to my patient speed, I admit 😉

Snowstorms are particularly effective at bringing a wild experience into places close to home. For more on this wildness, see my essay at https://milwaukeesnow.com/2012/01/13/wildness-of-snowfall-transforms-milwaukee/ , where I wrote that “Snowfall is a time when we are suddenly reminded that we live within nature, and that it retains the power to transform what we see and how we experience the world.”

After the snowfall ends, one can enjoy calmer winter weather. This winter, I’ve gotten used to looking out my window and watching the shift as the sky grows dark: first daylight, all bright on the snow. Second, the sun gets lower in the sky, and plants cast striking sharp shadows across the snow. Third, twilight when bluish snow + reddish spots around lamps are mirrored by blue and red tints in the sky. These provide pleasant reminders of the beauty right outside my window.

My tracks in a local park are almost the only ones. Week after week. Does no one else want to come out and walk in the park? Do children, when they come, just stick near to the play area and parking lot? Are there no children in the apartments by me who feel the need to play in park?

Sometimes, the top layer gets swept by wind. A slow flow, not really like anything else I normally see, except for flows of snowfall. A wind picks up, the snow seems to slither across top of landscape. Then the flow slows and halts. A new pattern is left behind.

Blowing snow! Snaking its way across. I want to try to capture this in a picture, but doubt it would work. This is something to enjoy in the moment. Bursts. See the subtle shaping… watch as the flow starts, blows up… then winds down.

Paying such close attention can remind me of the fun of appreciating, on an individual human scale, these local wonders. If we get too caught up in the wonders of distant places, we might imagine that what we can find here are too small-scale. If I took pictures of blowing snow, or even video of it, you might not find it particularly dramatic. But in the moment, things are different! I might catch my breadth, enchanted by the subtle wisps. It is enough to be in such moments.

For me, my appreciation of one kind of landscape helps me appreciate the other. A careful eye for details developed around home helps me notice what is different when I visits a larger, wilder park, with larger-scale scenes to view. Conversely, getting swept up in expanses of forest in Northern Wisconsin, and noticing how the pieces of the ecosystems there fit together, inspires me to find examples closer to home. Closer to home, I can identify a particular tree to keep an eye on, week after week, or day after day, and watch how it changes throughout the year. I can keep returning to a lakeshore to see just how much it can transform from day to day.

At other times, the frozenness of the snow is striking. Snow in stuck in place, caught in patterns. (Somewhat like icicles, those striking images caught on way down.) This is a place without movement, and a warm moving body feels strikingly separate from it. Wave forms. Caught. Mysterious how overhangs develop through the course of time…  then get stuck in one position. (until wind, and especially melting, reshape them.) Perhaps this is like a desert’s sand; or a lake in a given moment, except that the lake will keep moving, where the snow does not. Footprints from a few days – or a week – ago might now have snow sifting over them in a variety of shapes.Image

I will pause, lean down, and look at the patterns from close up.  I am continually tempted to touch the patterns. As one might sift sand. Or as one might learn the feel of bark, rock, or leaf through feel. I keep rediscovering that… it all pretty much feels the same to me, I admit 😉 Gloves are too thick to let me feel the fineness of snow grain. Fingers melt snow on touch, and running fingers along top just leave trenches. And basically I feel… cold. (If you have recommendations for how to more sensitively explore snow-feel, let me know!)

I tend not to focus on distant places. I rarely travel far for parks; I prefer ones within a few miles of home, and ideally a short walk away. I find the nearby parks, and enjoy them. (To me, it seems logical for environmentalists to not want to drive much – but I am aware that environmentalists are often called hypocrites for excessive driving. Am I so unusual? I do not know. I also work with local groups to make life more sustainable in my communities.)

I celebrate my place. One goal of my project was to convince people to stay in town, rather than leave it in winter trips. Even the season least loved in my place, which makes people want to travel far away…  I will make it my mission to convince people to appreciate what it has to offer. That is part of my love for the place, a desire to share my affection for it. A desire to convince others to appreciate more, to make sure it receives the care it deserves. To make sure my community members, both human and natural, get the respect from others (and sometimes themselves) which they deserve.Image

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Snapshots: viewing snowy landscapes from buses

Front yards of homes present themselves as largely sheets of white. Perhaps the backyards show more use, but the front yards had few footsteps in them. The cleared-off parts, driveways and sidewalks, are a small part of the landscape. (Businesses stick out for their expanses of asphalt.) I saw a few houses where people appeared to be making use of frozen, snow-covered ground as a place to turn their car around on.

Lawns give people a chance to work with nature, to plant, prune, and shape. That is basically not the case with snow. Which is, to be fair, usually in the midst of constant change, so not worth much effort to shape something that might melt quickly. But ‘lawn work’ gets replaced by… ‘snow removal.’ Children might run around, build snowmen and snowforts, or even make some patterns. Adults, I suspect, rarely do this.

Snow covers so much. Feels like it paints over parts of the landscape. Parking lots, lawns, farmed fields, grasslands, miscellaneous city and rural lots that are home to a variety of equipment – each of these can, at least for a time, be covered with the same basic ‘grounding.’ A certain amount of diversity of ground (and lot) conditions is lost, replaced with the bright coating of snow.

Private space often appears divided into ‘land we aren’t using, and that gets left as sheets of snow’ and ‘areas we walk on, which we will try to clear of snow and ice (and surround with piles of it).’ It is pleasant to look over white zones – and leave me with kind of an odd sense of unused space. Don’t know for sure if a weedy area gets limited use or not. But I can watch for tracks on snow to see if anyone has walked on, or moved any items onto, an area.

 

I got a chance to soak in 180 degree angles. A lot of horizontals (ground), a good number of verticals (trees). To get to soak in the diagonals of a forest, I may need to get closer up, deeper in.

 

(Contrast this with driving on one’s own. I do not have much to say about driving in winter… since its not much of an experience of winter. Its designed to get one through space, especially in areas that aren’t designed to be scenic – not to allow one to connect to it. And perhaps many of the things that frustrate the average American most about winter have to do with cars and driving.)

 

Riding on the bus can give one a chance to look in directions don’t normally, if briefly. That I appreciate. But there are limits – one day, windows were hard to see through, splatter of slush or some other wintry-mix covering. Another day, the bus I rode had an odd on the side, covering windows. Little dots let light through, but it was hard to look through, and kind of a pain on eyes.

 

I have a slightly elevated view of rural areas, since the bus rides higher than a car does. This allows me to see lots of different snow snapshots, lots of examples of how snow can settle on farms, businesses, other places. I cannot quickly come up with other examples of how one could take a similar ‘snow tour.’

I actually spent much of my rides looking out at the snow – for a snow-lover like me, a chance to sit back and enjoy looking over snowy scenery left me almost feeling like the ticket price was justified just as a tour of wintry Wisconsin!

I am more used to focusing on the local and the micro-level. A good number of my favorite winter photos involve me lying down to take a closeup of ice, for instance. But here is the macro side; a survey of hours worth of different winter scenery.

Are there large-scale patterns to be observed? Not so much, at least in Wisconsin. The large patterns I saw tended to be small enough in scale that one could observe them in a local park, or a big field. But the chance to see so many different examples was entertaining, at least in limited doses.

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