We raced to finish our greenhouse project before the ground froze and the snow fell. By last week the ground was frozen, and Wednesday the snow not only fell, it dumped.

Wednesday the city of Madison was stopped in it’s tracks.  With about 17 inches of snow and gusting wind, the University of Wisconsin-Madison called a rare snow day.  The buses did not run.  The mail was not delivered.  Gov. Jim Doyle declared a state of emergency.

We had friends visiting from Milwaukee who needed to get to University Hospital first thing Wednesday morning, so we were out early shoveling.

I always love digging into the first big snow of the season.   Shoveling is great exercise, and no matter how cold it is, it doesn’t take long till you are shoveling in your shirt sleeves and feeling the warmth radiate from your core out into the frozen universe.  That’s a vibrant feeling!

They say the Eskimos had more than a hundred words for snow.  (I have also heard speculation that most of them were swear words.)  But the only swear words I have for snow is for the snow that is compromising traction between my feet or tires and the surface beneath them.

Shoveling gives you a chance to really appreciate the many subtle characteristics of snow which are as various as wine, and Wednesday’s was a fine vintage.  It had fallen in such tiny flakes that you really had to look close to see it in the air, and yet it accumulated rapidly.

The result was a snow with considerable heft.  But it was not sloppy.  And it did not cling to the shovel.

You could slip your shovel blade beneath it’s 17-inch depth, tilt the shovel back and watch it break off cleanly into a cube that would hold together until you were ready to launch it towards its new resting place.

Sunday was our first chance to get out and see what kind of snow had piled up on our land.  By then the roads were clear, and we wondered what we would find.

This year, for the first time, we have contracted with a local man to plow our drive.  The past two years that we have had a drive, we cleared it with shovels and with a blade we attach to our DR Field Brush mower.  Because our drive is 250 feet long, that was a big job, and would pretty much consume our work time and energy by the time we reached the barn.

this time, thanks to the labors of our friend, Bruce, we motored right up to the barn, and that was good because Doug needed to put the snow tires on the Forester, and I needed all my strength to tackle clearing the greenhouse.

Instead of shoveling in Wednesday’s early morning light, I was shoveling snow that was backlit against the western sky, and every little fissure was filled with an unearthly blue light.  It was the same color that I saw in Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.  I was there 7 years ago, and I would hate to see how little must be left today.  It was melting away then.  The tour which used to start at the glacier’s edge required half an hour of picking one’s way across the rocky debris it was leaving in its melting trail.  But once we climbed the icy wall and made our way out onto the glacier I was enchanted by a color I had never seen before and believed I would never see again.  I saw it that blue last Sunday.

What was it about that snow and that light?

Farewell, Franz Josef (photo credit Rob Young, Flickr)

Snow seems more precious to me these days as each new sign of climate change breathes its hot breath at our necks.  (See my post on what climatologists believe is in store for Wisconsin here.) I am cherishing snow.  Each new round of snow will reflect its own unique conditions, and I am looking forward to each and every one.

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