This morning at first light, our dog Willow walked out the front door nonchalantly, as though he expected warm spring weather outside. Not so on a mid-January day in Wisconsin. Before the front half of his lanky body was out, his back half was already trying to scramble back into the warmth of the farm house.
Arctic birds have moved in, pushed ahead by the Alberta clipper’s very strong cold front to become our winter birds in southern Wisconsin. Snow buntings and tree sparrows, have replaced the ever present cardinals, blue jays, song sparrows and other common freeloaders at the bird feeder. Some are foraging vigorously, landing on stalks and attempting to shake out the few remaining plant seeds from the prairies plant stems.
It’s very cold today, and is supposed to continue for the entire week. It’s during these cold winter days when the howl of the wind and swirl of snow covers over the life and vibrancy of the dormant insects and plant life below. It’s also really snowy—nearly 40 inches now cover the ground, and another four inches are coming in tonight.
The snow is so deep that even the eight and ten foot tall stems of compass plant and big bluestem grass from last year’s growths are bonsai plants, as only the upper foot or less show above the drifts. The snow doesn’t just fall straight down from the sky in the prairies. It spends more time moving around horizontally, getting whipped up into wild and furious uplifting curtains that sift across the land and gather in drifts behinds the clumps of prairie grass and trees.
These are great days to stay indoors. Better yet, to pull the chair close to the wood stove, savor its warmth, and look through the windows to the outside conditions. That is what I did this morning for a few hours. It was easy to marvel the ten foot snow drifts, while wondering how any creature could possibly survive in the nearly zero degrees Fahrenheit, 20 mile per hour winds. At the insistence of strong driving winds, I watched the continued growth of the snow drifts.
When Susan listened to the weather radio, I heard the announcement of the severe winter weather warning... "stay indoors... as the expected 30-40 degrees below zero exposure conditions were of a serious threat... if you do go out make sure you are prepared and fully clothed... as a few minutes out there will give you frostbite, recognizable where your skin turns white." Say no more.
It felt right to follow this advice, provided by the automated human male voice from the NOAA weather band radio. I think I sensed a shiver in his voice. I nudged the radio closer to the stove. We were all warm then.
Pictures from Stone Prairie Farm. First, the same view as the cover of the book, at two different times of year. I am amazed that the same big bluestem grass plants shown hanging over the trail in the book cover are still in about the same position hanging over the trail in the middle of the winter.
This hill prairie is the prairie that distracted me during my first visit to Stone Prairie Farm with my mom, as detailed in the first chapter of the book. In the images you can see the Wisconsin Threatened Pale purple coneflower in full bloom last June 2008, and in the winter shot, the stalks of the same plants are apparent.