My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

The season of the black snow

It’s here, and it’s ugly, at least I think it is. The time of the year when the snow starts to melt, revealing all the trash, crud, and everything else the snow has been hiding. It’s the time of the year when all the snowpiles that have been piled up in parking lots and along side the roads are black from dirt, oil, and little bits of pavement that were shaved from the asphalt during plowing.

It was just two weeks ago that the Groudhogs Day Blizzard hit us, with 18 inches of snow where I live. That left us with around two feet of snow on the ground, fresh snow, pristine white snow, covering everything. All the trash we dump along the sides of the roads and everywhere else, all the beer bottles, pop cans, fast food wrappers, and wads of gum were all hidden from sight under a blanket of pure white beauty. But, it is a harsh beauty, at least to the animals who have to survive through something like that. For the next week, I don’t think the high temperature got above 20 degrees but once or twice, most days gave us highs in the teens, often with a bitterly cold wind making it feel even colder.

It was the day after the blizzard that I shot a video of turkeys struggling through the snow to find places to feed. The turkeys had it bad, but if it had been too bad, they could have flown. Not so lucky were the deer I saw along the expressways in the afternoons as I was driving for work. I saw them off in farmer’s fields struggling to make it through snowdrifts, pawing at the snow trying to dig down for something, anything, to eat. I saw where they had been digging in the snow while I was walking last weekend, especially in Aman Park, where the deer had been digging to find acorns buried under all that snow.

Last Saturday was also our first day with temperatures getting above freezing, for the first time since New Years Eve, a month and a half with temperatures never getting to the thawing point. By the afternoon of that first day of thawing, walking through all that heavy snow was becoming a major chore, and it was even worse on Sunday. This entire week has been warm, and almost all the snow on the ground is gone, something that kind of surprises me. I didn’t think we could lose that much snow so quickly, but we did. It also surprises me that almost two feet of snow melted away in a week, and there is very little flooding taking place. It isn’t that I want to see people flooded out of their homes, or anything like that, but we had a very dry year last year, especially in the fall. We could use some rain, or snow melt, to get our rivers back up to where they belong.

As I took my daily walks this week around the apartment complex where I live, I could see the trash emerging as the snow slowly disappeared. I find it both astonishing, and disgusting, and I know I will see the same things this weekend when I go hiking, unfortunately. It is astonishing in that there is so much of it around here, this isn’t a dumpy complex. It is disgusting both in how much and what people have just dumped around here. It is a good thing nature cleans up after us, the half eaten food items will become food for the crows or the rodents, the paper will rot away soon enough, as long as we don’t keep adding to it. But the wads of gum are what get me, they’re everywhere! I guess it is OK to spit your gum out anywhere these days, after all, there are so many people who make like water fountains in the way they spit all the time anyway. It used to be that the only people who spit were low-class or sports figures, now, it seems like the national pastime, and even young women spit all over the place. Just the other day when I was walking, there was an attractive young woman walking towards me, and I was wishing I were young again. That is, until she hacked up a big one and spit it out on the sidewalk not twenty feet from me. Yeah, real lady like, maybe I don’t want to be young again after all.

I think it is time to bring back that ad from the 60’s with the Native American standing along the road with a tear on his cheek as people drive by dumping litter out of their car windows.

I don’t want to hear that it is the fast food place’s fault for the way they package food, it’s not. It’s not the bottled water industry’s fault, it’s not the beer or the soda bottler’s fault, the people who throw that stuff out their car windows are the only ones to blame, no one else.

I don’t know what to say about the piles of the black snow that are left. There’s no way to put an end to them, and as they melt, many become like sculptures in the way they melt unevenly, but they are still ugly, in my opinion anyway. As I am walking I see shapes left in the snow piles and think that they would make an interesting picture, but, I can never snap the shutter as I find the discolored snow too ugly.

But then, there are other things the snow as covered as well, it isn’t just the trash and litter, it is also the smells from the earth. I noticed them again for the first time this year on Thursday, and it was good, for the most part. During the winter when snow blankets the ground, there is usually a crisp, clean scent in the air, much different from the earthy aromas of spring and summer, and the scent of dusty decay in the fall. The first smell that hit my nose was that of pines, I love that smell! It reminds me of all the time I have spent in the great north woods, especially the Pigeon River Country. My favorite campground up there is the one on Round Lake. Round Lake itself isn’t all that much, just a pretty little lake, but it is surrounded by a stand of mature red pines, and I love waking up at the crack of dawn, smelling the pine scent as the world comes to life.

A little farther on my walk, I smelled the scent of earth, if you’ve ever dug a hole or done any gardening, you know what I mean. It may be because all my mom’s side of the family were farmers, but that’s another smell I love. No so pleasant though, was the smell of a decaying animal that I didn’t go looking for, but you have to take the bad with the good I suppose. And even though the odor of death is offensive to the nose, it is still a signal that the seasons are about to change.

 That’s what the season of the black snow is, the change from winter to spring. We’ll get more snow, more frigid temperatures, more winter over the next few weeks, but spring is on its way. The black snow will stick around until the change is complete, covered now and then by new snow, but the new snow won’t last for weeks or months, just days from here on in.  It won’t be too much longer when after one of the next snowfalls begins to melt, that I’ll notice the first green shoots of plants beginning to push up for the new year. I am already seeing that some of the tree buds are starting to expand, and those who harvest the sap from maples for maple syrup will be tapping the trees soon to collect another spring harvest.

I like winter, but spring is my favorite season of them all, the rebirth if you will. I am ready to go fishing, my arm is starting to twitch involuntarily in the casting motion. I am ready to go kayaking again. I didn’t go at all this winter, as it has been too cold for too long, and most of our rivers have been frozen over to the point where kayaking would have been impossible. I am already planning my vacation in early May, as much as I can plan it, the weather makes my plans for me most of the time during my vacations, but I am looking forward to it more than usual this year.

 This thaw has been a short one, but it couldn’t have come at a better time for our wildlife, even if it has left the black snow in its wake. Not soon enough, it will be gone, and the lush green of spring will return.

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