Sometimes a cold, bleak, snowy, Iowa January can be hard to enjoy. Especially, when except for the conifers, all the trees have long ago stripped to their bare trunks, exposing every limb and twig to the frigid north wind. Are they, like us, shivering in the blue-steel cold? Mr. Sun is friendly at noon, but for all the till brightness, there is little warmth outside. The crisp cold overcomes him and by night the thermometer will drop, perhaps to zero.
January is likely to present us with snowy days of quiet beauty also, when a fresh blanket of snow muffles all sound. Today a snowstorm ambled into our area and big fluffy flakes began tumbling from the gloomy sky. At the beginning the gentle drifting, swirling snowflakes gives us the freedom to daydream and to reflect. In this world of white do we see beauty or just inconvenience to our busy lives? I admit long Iowa winters can make me a bit grumpy, but this day I looked from behind the triple-paned window and saw beauty in my yard.
As the white thermal quilt deepened, it transformed my familiar world to one unknown. Piling itself on bushes, every post, every twig became thick and woolly until the wind caught it and flung it whirling like a flock of birds. Even the fire hydrant wears a soft pompom stocking cap.
The squirrels hurriedly dig through the snow to find the acorns under the pin oak tree, before they become buried in a drift. There are flashes of color as the birds fly to the feeder to prepare for the long, dark, cold winter night. In the snow covered thicket of my tiny garden space, the slender curved twigs of red twig (red osier) dogwood add a rich red color, while the rose hips, shriveled though they are, glow dull orange. Just a very few bright berries on the Weigela bush remain, left by the foraging birds. Scarcely any pendant clumps of winged seeds, still hang from the ash tree.
There are many colors in the snow we so casually refer to as white. These are reflected intrinsic hues, and they vary according to weather, time of day and the surroundings. In sunlight the red side of the brick walls warms the snow to pink, while the tree shadows are pale blue. When the morning sunlight strikes, the snow is tinted with rose and pale yellows, but now in the early evening the shadows become deep lavender. Snowscapes are the most elusive thing in all nature for an artist to portray. But separated from the mass, one unique flake of this intangible (extremely delicate) substance holds all the sparkling silver beauty of an Iowa winter.
Marilyn Kutzli is a friend and volunteer of the Bickelhaupt Arboretum. She is a freelance writer and has written two books.