By Mitch Mode
Day comes silently; snow drifts down. The only sound is the sound a snowflake makes when it touches earth. Which is to say no sound at all. Falling snow on this day mutes the robin’s song. No birds sing.
The eastern sky is smudged gray; overhead the same. The snow brings horizon closer as if at arms reach. It’s late March. The calendar says spring; the curtain of snow suggests otherwise.
After dawn the wind rises and drives chill ahead of it. The dogs do not linger in the yard. They have an appearance of sheep as the snow builds on their backs. They come inside then eat and curl up. Nap time.
“In the days of springtime snow and wind there is a feel of a last spasm of lingering winter that does not go easily in to the night…” -Mitch Mode
I stand at the window and watch the snow fall. I think to myself, I love days as this. I love the spring days when snow falls wet and thick. I love to watch the wind drive the snow. I love it for the wildness and the unpredictably of it all and the sheer absurdness of snow whipped by the wind where the day before spring sun brought warmth and promise. A spring snowfall reaffirms the primacy of nature and in an age flawed by our growing separation from the natural world, I find comfort in that.
There is the same primal feel to an October snow that falls on fallow field and woods that drives the last leaf to the ground, that serves notice that winter is near and season change is at hand. To stand in the wind and snow of late October is to be part of the transition. It is at once powerful and humbling, for you know on those days that it is a harbinger of days to come; winter is at hand.
In spring, a difference. In the days of springtime snow and wind there is a feel of a last spasm of lingering winter that does not go easily in to the night of memory and history. A snowstorm in springtime brings to mind defiance and rebellion. It drives, it bites, it pushes you to pull the collar on your jacket up higher to guard against chill. If you are so inclined it brings despair and a feeling of helplessness in the world.
I love the snow of spring for the reminder of the way of the world. And here is the key to it all: Springtime snow does not last. The snow of one day is the rain of the following and the sunshine of the next. Snow in March may fall hard and heavy but it is doomed; it will not accumulate. It will not stay. It is a short-term visitor. It is a migrant bird on the way north, here, then gone.
I, on this day of early spring storm, watch the snow; plan my day. I drink a cup of coffee, dress for the day, and head outside. I load my kayak into the truck, prepare camera and camouflage netting. Then I drive out of town on roads covered with a few inches of wet snow. It is slow going; the roadway is slick.
I drive slowly in part because of the roads, in part because I am not in any real hurry. The snow continues to fall. The trees are covered and stand white and ghostly along the roads. I turn on the heater. All is good.
The river is dark; the color of the sky. Skim ice edges the flow and the distant shore is indistinct like a dream world or a memory that flickers on the edge of consciousness. The wind is steady from the east and north. “East wind means rain”, my dad always said. North wind means cold. Today; both.
There are birds on the water and bird calls in the air; geese, mallards, sandhill cranes, and the low, Remove featured imagethroaty ker-honk of swan. I load the boat, clamber aboard, push out into the cold water. The kayak is tight what with the over-thick clothing that I wear, clothing better suited for November chill. But weather dictates the clothing, not calendar.
I like to poke around the edges of things in falling snow. Birds often hold tighter in the snow as if they do not want to move. I paddle into the wind then turn at an angle to it. I have no plan and no real direction on this day. It is a day of spring storm; best to let things come as they will.
An eagle on a muskrat house faces the wind and the snow. I paddle slowly and hold the boat upwind. Then I lay paddle down and let the wind push me toward the bird as I hold camera as steady as I am able.
I get some photos. Then the bird flies and is gone into the cloud of snow.
I work up on a pair of Sandhill cranes, drab brown and gray feathers faded even more in the snow but with the flash of red on the crown of their head as if heat; the only color that day. I slow the shutter speed to blur the snow and give mystery to the image.
I find herons where I know they’ll be; huddled in the lee of the wind, heads low, hunkered against the wind and chill. Eight of them; seeking shelter. They always find this place in time of storm.
I get what I am after which on the surface is a handful of photos. But photos are not the reason I am out. I am out for the chill, fresh air and the snow stinging my face and the wind and the wildness of that day. I am out for the sheer wonder of a spring snowstorm that comes in hard and fast and reminds us of how close we can be to what is real.
The storm passes during the day. The next morning in the time before the dawn the robin sings again.
A variety of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, go to StarJournalNow.com.