Yes, I know, snow can be a real bugger sometimes. There’s the drift that always forms just a few feet in front of the garage doors. Some years I think I shovel the same snowflakes from that spot over and over. And there’s the new eight inches to clear off all the trails and driveways and walk-paths that crisscross the barnyard and curve their way past the pig pens and chicken coops.
When the first snows hit, we portion out all the shovels like they’re a ration. One in the garage, one at Farmstead, one in the other garage, one at the coop, one in the barn, one at the pole barn, one at the back door. You just never know when you’ll be stuck some place and need to dig your way out (or need the one in the car to get yourself unstuck yet again). Wake up for chore time and some mornings you have to dig your way out!
Not that I’m complaining about the beautiful snow we’ve been having. I love the elegant, clean look and brightness it adds to the landscape after November’s dulled browns and grays. It softens the sounds, brightens the mornings and evening (even in the shortened days) and adds a sparkle when the sun is out to catch the frozen crystals like jewels trapped on tree branches.
Our sheep dogs love the snow, snapping up a mouthful in mid-gallop as they romp about the barnyard obstacle course. For them, it’s like catching a mouthful of ice-cream. They come up for air, noses powdered white, then keep running. The sheep stand in their paddocks, observing the day, the downy flakes piling up on the their thick-fleeced backs.
The appearance of snow that sticks around on the farm also creates an interesting storyboard of who’s been where in the tracks left behind. The appearance of the classic splay-toed prints of turkey feet outside the fence tells of either an escape or a wild visitor, the tunnels of mice and voles bely movements typically unseen, and the highways of rabbits and squirrels spell out their favorite routs and hidey holes.
Tracking the paths of our wild friends and enjoying the views and sounds of the season of snow will all be part of our 4th Annual Snowshoe Hike this Saturday the 30th (starting 10:00 am) with naturalist Emily Stone from the Cable Natural History Museum. Cross-country skis are welcome too, and we’ll stop back at Farmstead after the hike for a hot drink and tasty treat.
I’ll be sharing the history of the farm as we pass by the old white pine stumps pulled from the fields by the original homesteaders or round the bend towards the unpainted gambrel barn, built in 1919. Emily weaves the story of what’s happening in the woods this time of year—the active subnivium zone beneath the snow, the amazing properties of lichen. Following the gently rolling topography, we move from barnyard to forest, hayfields to wetland borders.
This year the snowshoe hike will kick off a whole season of snowshoe/ski treks through our woods on Saturdays that I’ll be guiding. Starting at 1:00 pm, the hike takes about an hour, beginning and ending at Farmstead, every Saturday throughout January and February. Bring your own snowshoes or skis (and a friend!) and enjoy the quiet peace of the farm’s wintry hush. Of course, we ask everyone participating to please respect that this is special access to private property, and the trail will only be open during these guided experiences.
One of my favorite parts about being in the woods in wintertime (other than that I can return without being covered in ticks!) is how deeply one can look into the forest. Bits of movement between the silvery tree trunks catch the eye, a startled grouse looses her wings with a flurry of wind or a squirrel spirals skyward with great chastisement. All those bits kept secret through the leafy season are laid bare, silhouetted by the crisp, white snow.
My favorite snow makes the farm look ready for a Dicken’s village scene—powdery, light, with the huge flake-clusters tumbling down with impossible grace. They only stay that way for a little while before relinquishing their loftiness or slump in warming temps. But the moment of standing out in this type of snow, listening to the immense quiet of evening (after all the animals are fed because before that there’s too much baahing and braying and squealing) reminds me how truly magical wintertime can be.
What is your favorite way of enjoying the snow? Writing words in the freshness with your boots, like spelling a cursive message to the sky? Making snow angels or snowmen with the grandchildren? Skiing on the trails with your dog?
Whatever helps winter shine for you, make some time for that this week. It’s easy to complain about the snow, but finding the magic again (a magic we all remember as kids when the coveted snow days would happen) helps lighten the load of wintertime. Yes, there will still be shoveling and unearthing the car with its annoying crust of ice, but when was the last time you got to “play” with the snow? Had a snowball fight for fun?
If you’re not sure where to start or are looking for some motivation, you’re certainly welcome to join us on a snowshoe/ski jaunt in the woods behind the barnyard. But you don’t need me to enjoy the snow. It’s available to all of us living in these beautiful Northwoods. Even my ducks like it, burrowing about with their yellow bills. What are they looking for? I think it’s their way of just being outside, enjoying the snow. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com
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