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Major Snowage dec4/09

It’s here at last, and it hasn’t wasted any time settling in. I’m talking about West Michigan’s first real snowfall of the winter, which arrived Thursday night. Residents awakening on Friday morning opened their curtains and looked out the window at a landscape transformed.

We didn’t get just a little snow, either. I don’t know exactly how much fell, but as you can see from the photo, it was at least two-thirds of the way up to my knees on the trails at Seidman Park north of Ada. I’m six feet tall and I wasn’t standing in a drift; what you see was the average. In other words, we got lots of snow. Major snowage. Snowissimo.

Michiganders fall into two groups: those who love winter and those who hate it. There’s not much middle ground. There is, however, considerable flux. You can start the winter loving snow, and then sometime around February or March, cross a line and decide that you frankly loathe the stuff. Yet even those of us who at best merely tolerate the cold season because we must, have to admit there are moments of unsurpassed beauty and magic which only that pale old wizard, winter, can conjure up.

The first snowfall is such an occasion. An endless host of plump flakes cascading out of the December night, dipping and rising and dancing in the air currents, blanketing the ground in bridal white and lading the trees like thick frosting—this is Michigan winter at its best. When the sun rises on that confectionery landscape, you’d have to be a real Grinch not to admit that it’s a pretty wonderful thing. For that matter, even the Grinch would probably crack a wondering smile at the sight of the new-fallen snow.

Well-layered and with cameras slung around our necks, Lisa and I emerged from my car at Seidman Park and stepped into that fresh, first layer of snow. I had no idea it was so deep! But Lisa is every bit as much an outdoors person as I am, and of the two of us, she’s the one who has deer hunting in her blood. She’s not easily deterred, and neither am I. So off we went down the trail to see what the fields and woods had to offer.

When was the last time I had hiked these trails? My gosh, it must have been ten years ago. Moving to Caledonia shifted my attention to the attractions of Yankee Springs and rural Barry County, and I forgot about places to my north such as Seidman Park and the Egypt Valley State Game Area. That is, I almost forgot. On this snowy afternoon, I’m glad I remembered this beautiful park with its miles of hiking trails winding over tumbled fields, around ponds and wetlands, across wind-blown dunes and oak barrens, and through silent, snow-muffled forests.

There are varieties of snow. I’m no expert on this subject; I just know that it is so. There’s a big difference, for instance, between the frigid diamond chips that fall on extremely cold days, and the big, soft flakes that stick to just about anything they touch and pack readily into snowballs. This latter kind of snow—snow that falls during relatively warm days—is the stuff that clung to the branches and transformed the woods around Lisa and me into a Narnian fantasy. Strange shapes emerge out of such snow. Logs become white-hatted gnomes. Trees become sculptures of white clumps on black trunks that reach skyward, straining toward the graying evening sky.

Love it or hate it, winter is here—the months of minimalism, the season of black and white. At its worst, we’ll live with it. At its best, we’ll call it beautiful. Its beauty may not be the tenderness of spring, the richness of summer, or the flamboyance of fall, but it is there. When peaches-and-cream clouds drift above a sunlit, snowy landscape, then at least some of us will admit that winter, too, is a fair maiden.

Of course, we’re likelier to appreciate her beauty when we dress warmly and carry a camera.




Written by Dave.