It snowed a lot here recently. Like a lot, a lot. We had close to two feet of snow over a five day period with no real melting. It’s been two weeks since the snow came, and while we’ve had melting now there’s still tons of snow on the ground.
Two feet of snow in the lowlands of Cascadia is enough to freak people the f*ck out. It shuts down everything, at least for a little while. Even though it snows like this once a decade or so, there is no real snow infrastructure to deal with accumulations on roads. Schools shut down, businesses shut down, and it gets scary icy...especially at night and in the early mornings.
It can be super hard on people who lose work and money, and it can be truly frightening for people who get snowed in and their power goes out…
And it can also be incredibly fun, exciting, and an opportunity to experience and see the landscape in a new way!
During the recent Snowmageddon, my family and I were fortunate enough to experience the later. Rather than freak out, we explored, played, had fun, and relished in the temporary shutdown of everybody’s overly busy lives. We noticed neighbors checking in on each other and helping each other out. Our housemates and our family all hung out and chatted and spent more time together, and most of all we got out in the snow and experienced what the world is like covered in lovely white powder that is in a perpetual state of melting, freezing, changing, transforming, and enlightening everything all around…
My first experience of truly relishing the snowy world of Snowmageddon 2019 revolved around tracking. Tracking is a truly ancient human practice, and it may be the basis for our first written language or even the start of symbolic thought. Tracking allowed our ancestors to find food, stay safe by avoiding predators, and read the landscape around them. Seeing an animal’s tracks and then making the connection to that particular kind of animals was likely our brain’s first step towards creating and understanding symbols: one thing meaning another.
When it snows, it’s like a birthday party for trackers. Suddenly, all around you animal trails, prints, and behaviors are revealed in a way you’ve only suspected or dreamed about. Instead of having to limit your tracking experience to stretches of mud or sand or relying on very scant evidence through grass, forest debris, or other limited substrates, there are now tracks everywhere that you can follow almost endlessly. Sometimes literally for miles…
Tromping through eighteen inches of snow, with my son strapped to my back as I entered the now tundra-like landscape of a nearby meadow, something inside of me awakened, became alive and excited.
Examining the impressive leaps of cottontail rabbits through deep snow stirred my imagination. In my mind’s eyes I sought to see and feel how the rabbit moved and accomplished the feat of leaping five times it’s own body length.
A few moments later I was on the trail of a coyote following it’s apparently effortless gait as it’s rear foot landed exactly on top of its front foot creating an easy to follow path through the snow traveling on the edge of the blackberry hedge we were near…
Soon, my son Orion was asleep on my back lulled by his own ancestral rhythms of traveling on his dad’s back through the snow. He missed out on the poetic beauty of junco wing prints and the wondrous discovery of an otter’s entry and exit point from the river. I wished he had seen the belly slides of the otter...something so much clearer in a snowy landscape.
He did wake up eventually and saw the place where the raccoon climbed onto and jumped over the downed log, and he was excited to make clicking sounds to his bird friends who followed us along on our tracking adventure.
I don’t know exactly why (though I have my suspicions and I will probably write about it in a book someday) but tracking makes my brain happy. In fact, it makes most people’s brains happy. Just being outside looking at tracks, following mysteries in the snow, participating in the stories of my animal neighbors, and leaving my own trail for others to follow reminded me of the power, importance, and loveliness of snow.
For many it was a time full of trial, stress, and hardship. I empathize with that point of view and those situations, and at the same time something else happened. There was an opportunity, a be with the land around us in a different way. I was lucky enough to experience the snow as a gift…what a blessing.