May Snow

Heavy, wet snowflakes mix with apple blossoms on the first day of May in Saint Paul, MN.

It was a good rain, light-to-steady over several hours, the kind that soaks deeply into the soil and awakens late-sleeping perennials in the spring. Mid-afternoon, though the calendar showed May 1st, big, heavy snowflakes fell like icy polka dots. The blend of apple blossoms and sloppy, wet snow was a sly reminder that, in spite of increasing warmth and longer days, winter is never truly far away from those who live in the north!

The snow didn’t injure the blossoms of this more than 70-year-old Beacon apple tree, a hardy tree bred for Minnesota springs.

Late-Winter Beauty

Star-like snow crystals add beauty to common milkweed (Asclepia syriaca) in early March

Star-like snow crystals add beauty to common milkweed (Asclepia syriaca).

Soft, wet snow falls in early March. White blankets the garden and lawn, outlines tree limbs in frosty ice, and meltwater gurgles in downspouts.  It’s a peaceful scene — and what’s most beautiful to my eye is the common milkweed in our garden.  All winter long, north winds shook the dead, dry stalks and tugged at the pods until the seeds ballooned into the wind on their silky parachutes. A few seeds float free each day, but most still ride the breeze tethered to their pods.  Minute feathery snow crystals etch the silken strands like starry sequins on nature’s beautiful gown.

milkweedwholeThough the stalks are tattered, rough and hollow, soon spring-green shoots will pop through the soil to grow new plants and nourish bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. But for today, I’ll enjoy the crystal-covered seeds and the snowy scene knowing it will soon give way to spring’s warmth.ballerinaseeds2

Silent Snow

Pond Snowy Day

Low, heavy clouds lumber overhead, and the world narrows down to the bare-treed woods and pond.  Outside, I listen to the quiet  —  so still that I can feel the pressure of silence.  All traffic and aircraft noise is muffled and absorbed by feathery flakes.  I hear only the occasional ruffle of wind swishing snow crystals across open space in powdery swirls. A lone crow soars black against the sky not breaking the stillness.

In the morning, the predawn darkness is tinted with the odd light that accompanies a new snowfall.  I am up early and watch as daylight slowly builds beneath slate clouds.  I hear no birds, but there’s a gentle huffing sound: the breathing of white-tailed deer.  Gradually, several appear on the shore of the pond.  They nibble the tips and buds of willow saplings and other tender plants that protrude from the ice-covered pond and its bank.

Pond Deer Feeding

A second group grazes along the pond’s far shore.  As I watch them, I daydream of seeing their spotted fawns in a spring world filled with green leaf buds, lush moss, wildflowers, glorious birdsong, and wood ducks and mergansers sailing on the pond.  But for now, the winter world remains black, white and still.

Pond Distant Deer

Ready for Spring

The sun rides higher in the sky and daylight lasts almost 11 hours, but those are just about the only signs of spring — and most of us long for a warm-up that stretches beyond a meager two days.  Last week brought “bookend” snowstorms:  6.4 inches of new snow on Monday and 9.9 inches on Thursday/Thursday night, for a total of 16.3 inches measured at nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

As we awaited the city plows, and dug out our sidewalks, driveways and garage aprons, the meteorologists promised an end to the snow and another plunge to below-zero temperatures for at least the next week.  (In St. Paul, the average daytime high is +31°F and the nighttime low is +15°F for late February.  Today’s predicted high is +8°F with a low of -13°F.)
Fresh snow blankets white cedars in our backyard.

Heavy snow blankets white cedars in our backyard.

Ice and snow cover black spruce and a red maple in our front yard.

Ice and snow cover a black spruce and a red maple in our front yard.

How I pine for the first crocus to poke through the soil and open its delicate cup-shaped flower to the early spring sun!  But, with at least two feet of snow, plus the snow from sidewalk shoveling heaped on top of the garden, it’s likely to be several weeks before the snow melts and sunlight warms the soil.  As soon as I spy the first patch of dirt, I’ll be out every afternoon peering at the muddy earth for the first tiny, reddish-green tip of a crocus to push through to the light and signal the reawakening of life.  What signals spring to you?

In 2013, our first crocus bloomed on April 20th in our north-facing garden).  It is

In 2013, the first crocus bloomed on April 20th in our north-facing garden. (iPhone 4)

© Beth and Nature, Garden, Life, 2013-2014.  All photographs and text are created by Beth unless specifically noted otherwise.  Excerpts and links may be used as long as full and clear credit is given to Beth and Nature, Garden, Life with specific direction to the original content.  Please do not use or duplicate material from Nature, Garden, Life without written permission from Beth.

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.

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.