Happy Snow

I like snow. The child in me delights in the play potential, slipping and sliding, or creating three dimensional figures like snowmen, cats, dogs, or igloos and caves. Catching a snowflake in your mouth is both silly and special. Returning from a walk covered in the stuff feels cold and wet, and yet it is the experience of sledging or floundering in drifts that I remember long after I have warmed up – or I would have more sense than to do it all over again the next year.

It is said that every snow crystal is unique, although in reality some types of crystals are more individualised than others depending on how they are formed and how complex their shapes. The snow we had at the end of last year was amazingly light and fluffy, and grew crystals upwards from undisturbed surfaces that were absolutely stunning. This week’s snow is wet slushy stuff and not anything like as pretty. Some snow squeaks when you walk on it, other times it turns icy making the pavements a no-go area. For a substance that is simply frozen water, its variability often amazes me.

Last winter we did not have any snow. While this was great from the point of view of walking with a little one in a carrier or pushchair, or driving or cycling to regular activities, it was not so great for the garden. The garden needs a season of cold, as this triggers many seeds into growth and shoots into producing flower buds. Without enough cold weather many of our favourite varieties will not grow well – hence why imported apples are different varieties than home grown ones. The cold also kills off many bugs that would eat the plants and multiply before the larger predators come out of hibernation. Snow is particularly good in the garden for adding a layer of insulation when the weather gets really cold and protecting those borderline-hardy plants, so some people deliberately heap it onto dormant flower beds. This also acts as ‘the poor man’s fertiliser’, adding small, easily absorbed levels of nitrogen to the soil and some much needed moisture. In some areas early or late falls of snow were dug into the ground to get maximum advantage from it.

However I also think that we need snow for the light it brings. Winter is a dark time, with the sunlight lacking in both strength and hours. Muddy ground and leaf-less trees do little to help this. But cover everything with a white blanket for a week, and the little available light is reflected upwards from each snow crystal bringing light into our inner core. A winter without snow feels a very long dark time indeed; a week of snow with the odd bit of sunshine makes all the difference to our happiness.

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