Snow Scenes

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_7972acaWinter can be such a drab season. Everything is bare and brown. There’s no green anywhere, save for the invasive vines that are so obvious at this time of year. Trips to the Jersey Shore and the Pine Barrens (evergreens!) break up the monotony. But it takes a good snowstorm to really shake things up. Suddenly all those bare brown branches are sugar-coated and the ground is clean crisp white.

After our January blizzard, I went walking every day to enjoy the snow. There’s a local park with a trail that parallels Darby Creek. Of course I took my camera along.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8101acsWhile I was watching the wildlife, the wildlife was watching me. I’m pretty sure this is a Red-tailed Hawk. I’m out of practice identifying birds. Been spending a lot of my time with plants and pebbles.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8044acsSnow-covered rocks in the stream – Mother Nature’s cupcakes.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8227acsMemories of summer days.

160127_PA Glendale Park Snow_8320acsCarolina Wrens are tiny birds with BIG voices. I usually hear them long before I see them.

160129_PA Lancaster Farms Snow_8582acsSame storm, different location. Lancaster County barn.

A couple of weeks later Don and I went to the Pine Barrens on a Thursday to look for, what else, pebbles. On the following Saturday, Don, Robb and I were concerned that our chosen destination for the day would be too icy. So we debated an alternative. Don suggested a return to the Pines. I said “But, Don, you know the Pines got 4 inches of snow Thursday night, right?”

“Nonsense,” he replied “my family drove the Atlantic City Expressway right through the Pine Barrens yesterday and they said there was no snow.” So that’s where we went.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9672acsUm, Don, no snow? What’s all this white stuff on the roads?

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9650acsWe tried to drive to Apple Pie Hill. I’m pretty intrepid on the sand roads, but not when they’re covered with snow and crisscrossed with icy truck tire tracks.

Eventually we turned back, and opted for a short walk in Penn State Forest. The white snowy roads were the perfect complement to the evergreens against crisp blue sky.

Pine cone icicle.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9603acsThe perfect shelf for a miniature moss garden. Look very closely for the red moss sporophytes just at the left edge of the snow.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9772acsAhh, the essence of the Pine Barrens in any season. Pitch Pine cones, snow frosted.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9705acsPerfectly lovely photo of snowy pine boughs, photo-bombed by Robb.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9780acsWe are trying to learn about geology, and the identification of rocks. It’s a tough thing to learn on our own without experts to guide us. We’ve had an ongoing argument about whether the pebbles we see in many places are naturally occurring rocks, or from fill placed by man. Don had a point to make in that debate.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9668acsOur boot prints. From left to right: Kim, Robb, Don. The sizes are deceiving; my foot is smaller than the guys’. Really it is.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9696acsOur “short” little walk didn’t go at all as expected. Mistaken shortcuts took us far beyond the bounds of Penn State Forest into unexplored territory. The Pines are a mysterious place filled with unmarked sand roads, and even Pines veterans can find themselves bewitched and bewildered. We ended up having to retrace our path; though we were certain of the route back, we were grateful for the confirmation of our boot prints. We left at noon, and hours later found ourselves back at the car, hungry and thirsty.

160206_NJ Pines Penn Forest Snow_9824acsJust in time to see the sun set on a lovely day in the snowy Pine Barrens.

At the Top of the World

The Winter Queen is imperious and aloof, demanding and notoriously fickle. This year she opted to remain far to the north, leaving us in the gentle arms of Lady Autumn until late in January. Then Her Majesty swept in on howling winds of ice, and buried us in feet of snow.

She is beautiful, and her passage leaves a photographer is eager to get outside to admire the winter wonderland. But first her demands must be met: two days of shoveling, and the passage of enough time for the roads to clear.

Many are the photos I have of the lowlands wreathed in snow: Heinz Refuge, Valley Forge, Ridley Creek. Lacking are any images of snowy scenes from on high. Nearly a week after the blizzard, I set forth on a journey to visit the Winter Queen in her mountain fastness.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8336acsCardinals kept me company as I hiked up the narrow channel of compacted snow where others had walked before me. The soft sigh of the wind in the trees whispered above the rhythm of the wet crunch of my footfalls and squishy creak of my trekking poles.

I wondered what I would find when I reached the Pinnacle. How would the Susquehanna River below be dressed? Open dark water? Or would it be garbed in Her Majesty’s mantle of white?

The wind quickened as I neared the Pinnacle. The first glimpse through the trees made me gasp.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8339acsMy heart soared and I hurried to the overlook.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8355aYes! The Winter Queen has indeed been here!

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8453acsThe evidence of her frigid touch is everywhere, frosting the hills rising above the river…

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8461acs…and tracing the surface of the ice in intricate swirls and waves.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8373acsOn previous visits to the Holtwood Gorge Pinnacle, we discovered a wondrous place just down the trail.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8376acsIt’s a place where pine trees and rhodendrons stand guard over a garden of rocks.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8385aIn dry weather, it is a fun boulder scramble to the farthest of the rocks to look straight down to the water. When the Winter Queen is in residence, it requires much more caution. I clambered carefully down the rocks, often on my butt, very tentative when on my feet. Sometimes my foot plunged through the snow to my knee.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8393acsThere was the point beyond which I would not go. The Winter Queen cares nothing for the safety of her admirers.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8383acsBut, oh, what there was to admire! I sat on a dry boulder for a long time, soaking in the sights and sounds of the Gorge in snow. The wind howled through the trees, a whisper no longer. I felt it stinging my face, as the cold seeped into my legs from the rough rock below me.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8419acsBoulders loomed above me, their surfaces braided in stripes of dark grey, white and rust, dusted with lichens and puddles of snow. Three Bald Eagles circled past, and a kettle of Turkey Vultures.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8427aA flock of Robins passed through, flitting noisily through the shrubs. Did the Winter Queen take offense at the cheery presence of these harbingers of spring in her frozen domain?

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8448acsSlowly I made my way back up the boulders.

The climb was tricky; I had learned the hard way not to trust that there would be solid ground beneath every patch of snow.

I used my hands and knees more than my feet.

Walking the trail was easier.

160129_PA Holtwood Pinnacle Snow_8478acsAt the top, I turned once again to drink in the wonder of the Her Majesty’s creation, the pearly white ribbon winding through dark hills and twisting out of sight.

As if to remind me of the Winter Queen’s capricious temperament, when I reached my car, it began to snow.

Winter Weary

150224_HNWR In Snow_7843acsWe are weary of winter.

150224_HNWR In Snow_7886acsWe are weary of being bound in ice; we long for open water.

150224_HNWR In Snow_7880acsWe are weary of frigid temperatures and gray gloomy days; we long for the warmth of the sun.

150307_HNWR 420 Snow_9877acsWe are weary of endless nuisance snows, freezing rain and ice; we long for grass and green leaves.

150305_Snow Day at Home_9137acsSo weary of winter are we, when at last we get a real snowstorm, our only thought is – Please, GO AWAY!

150305_Snow Day at Home_9181aStill the snow falls softly and steadily throughout the day, coating every branch and bud in a frosting of white.

Soon we have other thoughts.

Look at how beautiful it is! How quiet and peaceful.

150305_Snow Day at Home_9345acWeariness cast aside, we long to be out among the snowflakes, forging new paths across the virgin whiteness.

We are alone with a camera in a small hushed world of wonder.

150305_Snow Day at Home_9214acsWe see how ordinary things are transformed by winter’s touch.

150228_Port Mahon Road_8400a150307_HNWR 420 Snow_9868acsWe admire the delicacy of a seed pod, and the oddity of a horseshoe crab, when each is cast in snow.

150307_HNWR 420 Snow_9781acsWe remember that the fox is glad of the ice and the snow that give him easy passage where on warmer days he would have wet feet.150228_Port Mahon Road_3425acs

150228_Port Mahon Road_3536acsWe marvel at the strange forms of the ice blocks tossed up along the bay.150228_Port Mahon Road_3578a

150307_HNWR 420 Snow_0194acs150305_Snow Day at Home_9186aAll too soon, the fingers grow numb and the wonder fades.

We long anew for days of warmth and sun and the sweet laughter of little girls at play.

We long for days when we will not be winter weary.

It’s a Marshmallow World in the Winter

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6945acsIt’s a marshmallow world in the winter

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6807acsWhen the snow comes to cover the ground

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6547acsIt’s the time for play

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6759aIt’s a whipped cream day

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6930acsI wait for it the whole year round.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6562acsSince we began exploring the Wissahickon Valley earlier this year, I knew it would be a wondrous place in the snow. So I’ve been waiting.

Alas, unlike last winter, the snows have been late to come, and meager. More waiting.

In the midst of a severe cold snap, we finally got a few inches of snow, followed by a crisp blue sky day. At last! No more waiting! Valley Green Inn.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6600a*SIGH* There goes Don, straight onto the ice in the middle of the stream, without a thought for his own safety. He’s old enough to know better.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6624aI’m old enough to know better… than to go first. I let Don test the ice, clamber down the steep and slippery stream banks. If he survived, then  I followed. Do you think I’m going to let him get all the good shots? Wissahickon Creek, down on the ice.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6679acs150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6744acs150218_Wissahickon In Snow_7049a150218_Wissahickon In Snow_7153aIn winter it’s a marshmallow world.

Variations on an Icy Theme

RCSP Ridley Creek Snow_ 0740 The old cliché says that the Inuit have fifty different words for snow. Around here this winter we have come up with some words of our own, none fit for polite company.

Philadelphia’s average snowfall is 22.2 inches, for a whole winter. So far this year we’ve had 58.4”, and there are still four weeks until spring.

Taylor Arboretum Creek Ice_ 1147acsAll that snow, combined with a long stretch of sub-freezing temperatures, has created some magnificent ice formations, especially near moving water. Dripping moisture builds strange sculptures on Ridley Creek, above.

Intricate patterns etch cold surfaces on Crum Creek, below.

Smedley Crum Creek Ice_9957acs

TX White Rock Lake Frost_7282acsHoar frost on a leaf in Texas.

Ridley Creek Geocaching_9610acsLoyal readers of The Wild Edge will remember this photo from our Ridley Creek geocaching adventure. This is called “needle ice”. It forms when the air temperature is below freezing, but the ground temperature is above freezing. Water forces its way out of pores in the ground by capillary action. When it reaches the air, it freezes. As more water keeps pushing out behind it, it forms into a growing column of ice. Needle ice is most common on steep slopes with seeping ground water, which is exactly where we found it.

07 Valley Forge Valley Creek_ 2696a 07 Valley Forge Valley Creek_ 2697acsSome ice formations are man-made. Bubble-wrap shaped ice on the wall of the Valley Creek dam, Valley Forge National Historic Park.

01 Valley Forge Farm_ 2350 Whoops! Who left the water running?

FUN FACT: Snowflakes form when water vapor condenses into ice.  Snow crystals all start as simple hexagonal prisms. But as more water vapor condenses onto them and they continue to grow, they begin to grow branches. This creates an amazingly large variety of snowflake shapes, including columns, needles, plates, and dendrites. The classic six-armed shapes with side branches, like we cut from paper in school, are stellar dendrites.  Stellar dendrites with an abundance of side branches are called fernlike stellar dendrites, for their resemblance to ferns.

RCSP Ridley Creek Snow_ 0663The dry powdery snow we had in January showed off several different snowflake shapes to good advantage. Which shapes do you see here?

Blue Snow_2768a

FUN FACT: What color is snow? Actually, snow crystals individually look clear. When they get together with their friends, the incoming light is reflected by the crystals and bounces around before scattering back out. Since snow generally scatters all wavelengths equally, it usually looks white.

But, it also happens that red wavelengths are sometimes absorbed by the snow, making the snow look blue or aqua. The deeper you look into a hole in a snow bank, the bluer it will appear. Since heavy, wet snow absorbs a lot of red light, we’ve seen a lot of blue snow in February. This is a close-up of a snow boulder left by a snow plow.

RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0444

Also resplendent in shades of blue and aquamarine, the dam on Ridley Creek at Sycamore Mills was spectacular in late January. Bubbles and stalactites and little ice daggers, oh my!

RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0440 There’s a lot of water flowing behind the spikes and icicles formed here. More and more of it froze every day. In only one week, the ice would grow into the thick solid curtain seen below, dusted with a recent snowfall.RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0689

RCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0432

Fifty different words for snow? At the wild edge where the water runs, there’s just one word:

BEAUTYRCSP Ridley Creek Dam_ 0450

Unsweetened Iced Tree

Ice Storm_ 1453 acs The wonderful thing about weather is that it’s never the same from day to day. Variety is the spice of life, right? Well, this was one variety we could have done without: ice.

Ice Storm_ 1484aLast week we had a significant ice storm. Ice coated the branches and twigs of the trees, and many of the older, larger trees lost limbs or came down completely. Downed wires led to over 700,000 power outages in my area of Pennsylvania, and many homes and businesses were without power for days. It was just hours for me, and I’m counting my blessings for that.

Ice Storm_ 1533acsAfter the rain stopped, I tried to capture the beauty in the beast before the ice melted away.

Ice Storm_ 1471acs Ice Storm_ 1455acs Ice Storm_ 1493acs Ice Storm_ 1539a Ice Storm_ 1523a Ice Storm_ 1490aA friend said that the patterns in the ice remind her of crackled glass, and I realized that is why I have been so fascinated with the ice this winter. I love glass in all its forms. Really, anything transparent or reflective. I must have been a raven in a former life – I love shiny things. (The image above is worth clicking to see the intricate ice patterns.)

Ice Storm_ 1575acs This has been the winter of our discontent. As I write this, a Nor’Easter has once again buried us in snow, and wind and sleet assault my windows.

Yet, this too shall pass. As the ice of last week melted away, this winter will melt into our memories. Underneath the snow my crocuses sleep, well-watered and warm, waiting for the Spring yet to be.Ice Storm_ 1556a