Category Archives: Winter

Without Snow, Part II

IMG_0786IMG_0789We have also spent a fair amount of time walking out into the woods, which would be impossible in most years.  Our ramblings take us up small hills, down logging roads, past rocky outcroppings.  Old snowshoe hare tracks caught M.’s eye on a walk up Dead Dog Hill, and she decided to make what she called a “Rabbit Catch.”  The idea was that if she collected some enticing food items for the hare and set them out along with a soft place to sleep, she would be able to hide and observe the hare when it came by to nibble and rest.

I followed her direction as we collected dried out manzanita berries and evergreen leaves from greenleaf manzanita plants (Arctostaphylos patula),  a miniature bouquet of coyote mint flowerheads (Monardella odoratissima), and tufts of chartreuse wolf lichen (Vulpia sp.)  These were all carefully arranged on rocks and sticks in a small hollow that M. thought looked just right for a hare to inhabit.  We have returned to check on her set-up, and so far there are no takers.  I love that she has learned to navigate from our house right back to the same spot.  I watch as she follows a logging road, peels off at a skid trail, climbs past a feature she has called the “Sitting Rocks”, and looks for three small firs that mark the spot.

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Without Snow, Part I

IMG_0800Without snow, there was no skiing this winter break.  No sledding, no snow forts, none of the usual winter activities that I had anticipated.  By this time last year, we were virtually buried.  But the thin crust of snow that was laid down by our first and only snowstorm of the year in early December has all but disappeared.

The upside is that shallow, marshy portions of Mountain Meadows are perfect for ice skating.  Sub-freezing nights and warm days melt and refreeze the surface, polishing it to a tempting sheen.  M. made it up on skates for the first time this year, and she is absolutely hooked.  We’ve been out twice so far.  Yesterday, a bald eagle perched in the trees above, watching her progress.

The girls also remembered the fun that can be had with cattails, and harvested a bucket-load home with the hopes that they can be persuaded to grow in our yard.  We’ve found more entertainment than we thought we would in this sadly snow-deprived winter.

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Cattail Wands

DSCN8392 Snow still lays a foot or so deep across much of the landscape, but the enough had melted from the edges of Mountain Meadows that we could walk around its perimeter last Sunday.  We never know what will catch the girls’ eyes on a winter walk.   They began with the usual hucking of rocks onto the ice.  Then an expanse of cattails (Typha sp.) at the shoreline caught our eyes.  Did you know that each cattail spike holds roughly a quarter million tiny seeds?  I certainly didn’t.  The dense compression of these seeds creates the brown, solid-looking cattail.  As we waved our cattail wands, seeds billowed out like smoke.  Each tiny achene is attached to minute hairs that allow the seeds to disperse aloft in the air or afloat in  water.

Cattails are monoecious, meaning that its flowers are either male (pollen-producing) or female (seed-producing), but not both.  Each cattail contains both male and female flowers; the male flowers on the upper portion of each cattail (the narrow portion of the spike as seen above) and female flowers on the lower, thicker part of the spike. 

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Mountain Meadows in Winter

DSCN8344-001Out for a ski date.  Our destination was just a few miles from home, yet we skied in total solitude as far as human company was concerned.  Mountain Meadows hums with wildlife this time of year.  The lake remains iced over, save for pockets of open water near springs at the edge of the lake.  And this was where hundreds of tundra swans congregated, before they were spooked into flight by the rasp of our skis on icy snow.  They are over-wintering here, preferring our version of winter to their arctic breeding grounds.  Bald eagles spun lazy circles overhead, while at our feet lay evidence of animals unseen.  Bobcat, coyote and raccoon had all complicated the smooth snow with a jumbled web of tracks.

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Seed Catalog Craft

DSCN8250The seed catalogs have begun to arrive.  Despite the three feet of snow currently on the ground and the inevitability of more to come, we cannot help but think forward to our spring gardening.  Plans are afoot to double our garden space and create beds that the girls can more easily access.  We’ve promised them a little garden space of their own.  So on today’s cold, crisp winter morning, we started to dream.

The girls each “planted” their garden by cutting images of veggies, fruits, and flowers out of duplicate seed catalogs.  Then they pasted them into their own “garden” — M. into neat and tidy rows, as his her way, and A. into free-form patches which she then swathed in a rainbow of colors.  They started with their favorites (carrots, peas, radishes), then remembered to add a few new approved tastes from last year.  Kale to make kale chips.  Turnips to eat with butter and salt.

“Can I plant a fish?”  asked A.  And M. explained no, that she would teach her little sister how to catch  a fish next year.  “Can I plant macaroni and cheese?” was next.  Again, no, but in theory we could plant the wheat from which the noodles are made.  We’ve hung our gardens in the stairwell as a reminder that dirt lurks beneath all that snow, and spring is just a few months away.

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Over the Snow Berm

DSCN8224Over the berm it is a different world.  Noise from the street and highway is buffered by an eight-foot high wall of dense, wet, snow that the snowplows have muscled into place.  Houses are hidden from view.  Animal tracks criss and cross our well-worn ski trail.  And so it is that once we clamber up and over that berm, we feel as though we are in the middle of the forest, though really we are just a few hundred yards from home.

M. has been out with me twice this weekend.  She leads the way and I follow behind.  Each time out she is able to steady herself a little better on the hills, and glide a little more efficiently on level ground.  We venture just a little bit farther with every outing, marking our turn-arounds with a giant “M” traced into the snow.

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Lassen Park in Winter

DSCN8204Up to Lassen Volcanic National Park on a blue-skied but bitterly cold day.  My sainted husband took the girls sledding near the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at the southwestern entrance, which freed me up for a short ski.  Apparently my 4-year-old was flying headfirst  down the hill so fast that bystanders gasped.  Yes, there are some things that it is better that a mother not see.  Meanwhile I skiied the well-trod path along the Park highway to Sulphurworks, roughly 2 miles roundtrip.  Though over six feet of snow blanketed the highway, heat from hydrothermal activity had melted away every last inch at the Sulphur Creek crossing, leaving the pavement exposed.

Then back into the toasty warm Visitor Center for hot chocolate.  M. began working toward her Junior Ranger badge this visit.  I love that earning a badge requires a bit of time and effort!  Good motivation to return to the park this summer so that she can finish up.

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Snow to Last Us a Winter

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A week’s worth of winter storms has finally abated.  After all the shovelling, snowblowing, and nerve-wracking commuting , we finally have a break in the weather and a chance to enjoy the stuff.  The five feet or so that fell has packed down somewhat; enough that we can all get out and enjoy it in our own way.  Papa skiing powder at Coppervale.   Mama heading out into the woods on nordic skis, sinking deep, appreciating the muffled silence broken only by massive chunks of snow unloading from tree branches.  The girls finding their swingset transformed into snow fort.  Both girls navigating the incised paths through our yard on tiny cross-country skis (a first for little A.!)

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two feet and counting . . .

ImageWinter is spot on in its arrival this year.  Awoke this solstice morning to blowing snow that has so far blanketed us two feet deep.  Two feet!!  And this is just the beginning of a three-day storm.  Grateful not to need to drive anywhere for the next few days.  I bundled the girls up, and we headed out, ostensibly to play.  Fun for M., who could scramble up a pile of milk crates and launch herself into the drifts.  Not so much for poor little A.  The snow came up to her chin and was a quite a daunting venture.  She followed close at my heels as I shoveled a path to the cottage.  We soon beat a hasty treat back inside for hot cocoa and gingerbread.  Looking forward to Papa’s safe arrival home, then we can all hunker down for the holidays.

Papa safely back home, now 30″ on the ground.  Wow.

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Our Lady of the Snows

We were all ready to go.  Lunches packed, water bottles filled, early bedtimes achieved.  An overnight forecast for a rain/snow mix loomed, but sounded tame enough.  But this morning, we awoke to a relentless tangle of quarter-sized flakes sifting down from the sky.  Chain controls on the pass made my decision an easy one, and so I let the girls sleep and made the mental shift from Workday to Snowday.  An agreeable transition indeed!  While most of the morning has been spent reading, painting and  playing cards, we did bundle up mid-morning to find snow perfectly suited for shaping.  The pine needle hair-plugs were M.’s idea, and made for a very jolly snow maiden.  M. asked me to bring out four carrots this time, remembering how little A. swiped the last snowman’s nose right off its face and had herself a snack!  This time we all had a carrot to munch on as we worked, and our snow gal’s face remains intact.

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