Although we haven’t seen too much of it (yet) in S.E. Michigan this season, a dusting of winter white can be magical. Oh sure, we like to protest about ANY snow – as if it were somehow aberrant or a sign of some shocking global climate change – but I believe we do this more as a conversation starter than anything else. I say this, because if negative snow talk is not merely a conversation enzyme, then this means we are all simpletons with the short-term memory skills of porcupines. No, we are not all simpletons. I have woven more than a few blog entries around this snow idea and I certainly couldn’t be a simpleton! Right? I mean, I know how to break the plastic collar off the lid of a half-gallon of egg nog before opening it. And, I proudly add, have done it countless times. Not even a porcupine can do that (as far as I can recall).
A dusting of snow hurts nothing. It can actually enhance the appearance of life. Such an event places us inside a giant snow globe (without the earthquake that precipitates the fake snow of a real snow globe). Everything is altered. A dead branch becomes part of a Japanese watercolor and the shriveled top of a Queen Anne’s Lace is transformed into a lacey basket. A yearling deer, which is normally a large stupid animal with abnormally long facial whiskers, remains a large stupid animal with abnormally long facial whiskers once it is baptized with snow, but two out of three ain’t bad.
Perhaps the most unusual snow transformation occurs with spider webs. Normally associated with sultry summer days or dewy fall mornings, there are always a few silken webs around to interact with early winter snowfalls. A gentle windless fall will end up with more than a few ensnared snowflakes hanging tenuously on nearly invisible threads. In the absence of a piece of felt or the sleeve of an ugly Christmas sweater, a web-caught snowflake is the best way to view individual snow crystals before they melt.
I took a few moments to examine a few flakes during the latest dusting. After shooing away one of those large stupid creatures with abnormally large facial whiskers, I noticed a few flakes in suspension and decided to present them for your adoration here. The snowfall on this particular morning was in the nature of clumped columnar crystals. Still, the resulting flakes looked like clusters of perfect quartz crystals. Magical? Yes.
It is tempting to assume that these spider webs are remnants left from earlier in the season. That multiple sub-freezing nights have either eliminated all of the spiders themselves or driven them into deep hibernation. I assumed that was the case when examining an artful piling of snow on some scarlet wild rose leaves. There was a lacing of webs between the hardy leaves which held a garland of snowflakes. It was amazing enough that such seemingly tender leaflets were weathering the season in such bold form. Without the snow, the web encircled cluster could have been pictured in mid-autumn. The webs, at least in this case, were not old autumn left-overs, however.
Tucked away in the slight curl of one of the upper leaves, the web-master was still in place. It was a Long-jawed Orb Weaver – extended and very slow moving – but it was alive (see detail photo above). The temperature at the time was 29 degrees F. Fortified by internal anti-freeze, the creature was apparently harboring thoughts of overwintering.
Temperatures in the 50’s from a few days earlier probably prompted it into a simple web-making mode. I doubt that it will feed on the resulting catch of snowflakes but I do wonder about something. They say that magical things happen to all the creatures of the earth on Christmas Eve. Dumb animals are said to speak on this night. Since deer are the dumbest of all, I’ll bet they become golden tongued orators. Will our cold little spider indulge in a tiny frozen gnat snow cone if she collects a dusting of snow? And, will she giggle at the abnormally long facial whiskers on the deer.