December Thaw

I walked a mile or so around our city neighborhood at noon today.  The sun was gently warm in a powder-blue sky and a mild breeze blew from the south.  Melting snow plunked and gurgled in metal downspouts, and chunks of ice on roof shingles loosened and crashed to the ground.  Plants lost their winter snow caps.  Squirrels snoozed on tree branches in the sun.  Blue jays, black-capped chickadees and a white-breasted nuthatch chattered in the trees.  Walkers smiled, called greetings and shed hats and mittens in the warmth.

Snow melts on the still-green stems and hips of Rosa 'Henry Kelsey".

Snow melts on the still-green stems and hips of Rosa ‘Henry Kelsey’.

Six weeks ago, a high of 47 degrees (F) would have felt very chilly and worthy of complaint.   Today, it feels balmy — a glorious day to be outside.   And though the next Arctic air mass will arrive tonight with subzero temperatures and dangerous wind chills, I’ll cherish this tiny foretaste of spring while I wait for the January thaw.

Northern Christmas Greetings

In the cold darkness of the northern winter, solstice arrived and soon the days will grow noticeably longer.  May you know the beauty,

Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens'

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ seed heads glisten with ice, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

the quiet peace,

Red pines in the St. John's Arboretum, Collegeville, Minnesota.

Early morning among the red pines, St. John’s Arboretum, Collegeville, Minnesota.

and the joy in this season of Light.

Evening sky and Black Hiils spruce, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Evening sky and Black Hills spruce, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Winter Sky

The winter sky is moody and ever-changing even in the city.  The rising sun glows a warm orange on trees and buildings that belies the steely cold air.


The sky grows to a brilliant blue, then often softens to dove gray — especially in early winter when clouds quickly blanket the blue, sputter snowflakes, or spin a squall before moving out.


Winter sunsets fire the horizon unlike any other time of year.  As the sun sinks lower, light streams through our southwest windows flooding the rooms with deep golden rays.  I love that last burst of gentle, bright warmth and, for a few moments, I work in those rooms when possible — perhaps to write, catch up on paperwork, or even fold a basket of laundry.  Soon afterward, broad strokes of rose illuminate the west, then slowly die down to pink embers.




Many evenings, in the final glow of twilight a silvery moon brightens against a pale, fading sky.


First “Sticking” Snow

It started out as rain, then many hours of mist. Later, heavy wet snow changed to sleet and back again, weighing down and soaking seed heads, decorative grass and the few leaves that haven’t fallen from the trees.  This snow is likely to stay for the rest of the winter, given the subzero temperatures and the prediction of more snow to arrive on Sunday.

I’m not a winter person, I’m a summer gal.  I miss the melodious birdsong, the activity of butterflies, bees and colorful beetles in our garden, the leafed-out trees, the warmth of the sun and the long, long hours of northern daylight.  But I try to find the raw, stark beauty revealed in the winter months.  It is not the vivid, vital beauty of summer.  No, it is a harsh beauty that complements the cold, brittle air, stinging wind and sharp light of December.

The season's first snow that is likely to remain until spring.

The season’s first “sticking” snow is likely to remain until spring.

When snow falls, a temporary hush settles over the city, dampening the noise of traffic and aircraft, and making it easier to hear nature’s sounds — the quiet ticking of sleet and snowflake on spent plant stalks, the rustle and crackle of brittle leaves in the wind, a chickadee’s call and the honking of geese flying low overhead.

This snow wasn’t as pretty as most because it was too soggy to etch and highlight trees and other plants.   But, I found a few lovely, wintry sights in the yard:

Red leaf barberry (Berberis thunbergii atropupurea berries are coated with freezing rain and snow.

Red leaf barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘atropurpurea’) fruit is encased in freezing rain.

A single apple leaf...

A single beacon apple (Malus ‘beacon’) leaf decorates a snowy landscape.

A purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seed head sparkles with beads of sleet.

A purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seed head sparkles with beads of sleet.

Snow frosts an evergreen Korean boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. koreana).

Snow frosts the tips of an evergreen Korean boxwood bush (Buxus microphylla var. koreana).

Snow softens the rough bark of 70-year-old beacon apple tree (Malus "beacon").

Snow softens the rough, scaly bark of a 60-year-old beacon apple tree (Malus ‘beacon’).

Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) buds are coated in snow.

Tightly closed Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) buds are dusted with falling snow.