On and Over the Hills

"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle

The Sound of Snow

I think there is an unconscious expectation that when there is motion, there should be corresponding sound. Perhaps that’s why when standing still in the woods with thick white snow falling all around with not a breath of external sound, there is a sense of unreality – of (I must say it again) magic.

Maybe it is just because the changing winds are such common company that their absence inspires curiosity and wonder. Snow here usually rides on the whims of the wind. Sharp, pricking stings driven horizontally into exposed skin by a strong and steady storm are familiar sensations, remedied by the lift of a scarf or the tucking of a glove.

The capricious Boreas capers, then rages through the forest, sweeping loose needles and blankets of snow and wringing howls from the boughs and squeals from the trunks of those conifers that have been blown into a precarious embrace, just to soften and lull the woods into a mellow sigh before striking once more. The horde of icy snow this north wind drives before it, hisses in its rush to embed itself into any landing-place, crowding densely as if to avoid being lifted and launched again. It packs onto the earth and up against the craggy trunks of the pines: heavy, airless and hard it provides tunnel-perfect matter for the subnivean denizens of the forest.

Into the Ravine

I am accustomed to the squeaks and crunching of my winter boots breaking through this thick substance, so the passage through the snow this past week has been a novelty: merely shushing and nearly quiet.  For most of a week a southish wind has brought low clouds to release softly and gently floating flakes, unendingly accumulating to cover the maze of forked hare tracks, to lovingly enfold every surface with insulating down, to cushion and obscure the wing-drop of the hunting owl and absorb the sound of distant bird calls. Seemingly unconcerned as I pass beneath and nearly silhouetted against the slate sky, a ruffed grouse  browses mutely on the slumbering embryos of buds on an overhanging aspen branch. A snowshoe hare bounds camouflaged and soundlessly through white-blanketed Labrador Tea.

Breaking Trail

A subdued but euphonious knocking becomes audible above the soft sounds of my footfalls, seemingly distant. I follow the sound a very short way before suddenly passing it. Turning, I realize that it is emanating from an aged and leaning pine just by my side. An ear to the still rough bark reveals the diligent hammering of a small, unseen, vagabond woodpecker 40 or 50 feet up in the thick cone-laden branches. I am transfixed by the vibrations of sound travelling through the living tissue of the wood as if mesmerized by a primitive ritual.

Snow on Lodgepole Pine Bough

Snow as Cotton on Alder

The illusive sun suddenly burns through a weak gray layer dusting the snow surface with softly reflecting sequins. I raise my face to the light and the snowfall; each flake a tender kiss on skin alive with sensation, eyelashes catching Christmas in a net. A wisp of a breeze, an ephemeral exhalation lifts the weightless snow from the willows without disturbing the silent winter sleep of the wood, sending fluffy plumes and tiny clouds of flakes into the air and onto my mittened hand, exquisitely unique crystalline compositions still clearly discernible.

The gargled crrawk of an investigating raven breaks the silence, muted and soft as if this king of the winter canopy too, is loath to disturb the serenity.

22 comments on “The Sound of Snow

  1. Thecatsman
    December 22, 2010

    A delightful read with some fantastic photos to go along with it….

  2. Bob Zeller
    December 22, 2010

    Cindy, when I first saw the title of your post, my first thoughts were of my own experiences growing up during the winters in Michigan. The sheer silence of the woods, the squeaking of boots in the snow, chipmonks peering from their little holes in the trees. I could never have described it so eloquently as you have. Thanks for bringing back memories. A fantastic read and excellent photos to provide great accompaniment A beautiful job again, just what we have come to expect of you.


    • missusk76
      December 24, 2010

      I’m glad it brought back fond memories for you and that you’ve shared them here with such strong and yes, eloquent words. I especially like the visual of the “chipmonks peering from their little holes in the trees”. There are none here, but I will be looking more closely into the holes for the chance of seeing a squirrel peeking out. Thank you for that, Bob.

  3. Tim Surratt
    December 22, 2010

    You are so entertaining with your descriptive prose Cindy and the images you post are the perfect visual support.
    I don’t have the experiences, being from North Carolina, but one I’ve always noticed is the silence. The muffled silence. A time when you can both see and hear yourself breathe.
    Merry Christmas Cindy and to your family also. Enjoy your time off (like you need me to tell you that).

    • missusk76
      December 24, 2010

      Yes, the snow seems to really absorb sound and you are so aware of your own body, as you say, ” seeing and hearing yourself breathe”. Thank you, Tim and I am trying very hard to enjoy the next few days without anticipating too much the time after Christmas and Boxing Day, (what we call the 26th – a visiting day) when I will have some time to shoot and play and write to my heart’s content for a while. Merry Christmas to you, too.

  4. pixilated2
    December 22, 2010

    I have only experienced that snowy silence once. It was breathtaking! 🙂

    “Into the Ravine” pulls the viewer into the photo… I like it! ~ Lynda

    • missusk76
      December 24, 2010

      Thank you Lynda. It is a unique experience.

  5. Linda
    December 23, 2010

    Cindy…this is beautifully expressed both in words and images

  6. Curt Saunier
    December 24, 2010

    Hi Cindy,
    Although my appreciation for your photos hasn’t diminished in any way, I think I’m becoming an even bigger fan of your writing! This is a great read!

    • missusk76
      December 24, 2010

      That is so kind of you to say, Curt. I wish I could competely dedicate myself to one thing – but I think I’m destined to be half-assed at a whole bunch of stuff. 🙂

  7. Dan Jurak
    December 25, 2010

    Merry Christmas Cindy,

    I’m looking forward to seeing more of your photos in the new year.


    • missusk76
      December 28, 2010

      Thank you, Dan. I always look forward to your inspiring images.

  8. julianhoffman
    December 31, 2010

    A delightful and atmospheric journey through a land of silence and snow. I loved following alongside, Cindy, and could hear the raven as it fell through the grey skein of sky. A lovely and contemplative way to round out the year. It’s been a joy reading your blog and discovering a world through your exquisite images. Can’t wait to see where your path will take you next year!

    Best wishes,

    • missusk76
      December 31, 2010

      Thank you Julian. I’m so glad you enjoy this journey that dominates my year here. You must enjoy the outdoors during the long winter, or your mental (and possibly physical) health suffers. The ravens are often the only mobile life visible and they fascinate me. Their evident intelligence and agility, and their apparent playfulness keep me entertained. If I ever get a zoom lens, I’ll be bombarding the world with raven pictures!

      Thank you for your encouragement over these past months and I’ll look forward to sharing and comparing our ‘places’ over the next year.

  9. flandrumhill
    December 31, 2010

    You have so much snow compared to us Cindy. It is a beautiful white wonder isn’t it?

    • missusk76
      December 31, 2010

      It truly is, although we really haven’t accumulated that much yet as compared to usual. I haven’t had a chance yet, but I’m looking forward to going cross-country skiing soon, which my friends and I call ‘skiking’ – a combination of skiing and hiking because unless we follow a snowmobile trail, which we might if necessary here and there, we are breaking our own trail and basically hiking through the deep snow on skis. We often wonder if we should switch to snowshoes.

      Thank you for your comment, Amy-Lynn. I’m glad we found each other!

  10. photosbymartina
    January 2, 2011

    I love the title “The Sound of Snow.” The photographs compliment the words so nicely. I love reading your posts to get a sense and feeling that I too am taking a walk with you. Beautifully written and photographed, although the words alone would paint many pictures in my mind and shows how gifted you are as a writer. Happy New Year!

    • missusk76
      January 3, 2011

      Thank you Martina. I think I do think in pictures and enjoy trying to translate those pictures into words although I’m never satisfied that I’ve translated what’s in my brain either linguistically or visually through my photographs. I’m gratified that you can ‘see’ what I write about. Thank you for your compliment and I hope the new year has begun well for you.

  11. farmhouse stories
    January 9, 2011

    Your photos are so inviting, I just want to jump in and go exploring down the snowy path. Beautiful!

    • missusk76
      January 9, 2011

      We have about 4 times the amount of snow now and I’m anxious to get out exploring on my cross-country skis. Unfortunately it’s very cold and windy (which makes it even colder) today, so maybe tomorrow… Thank you for stopping in, Cait.

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This entry was posted on December 22, 2010 by in The Journey and tagged , , , , , , , .
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