There is something magical about the first snow of winter. The grays and browns of November disappear beneath a blanket of clean, white, freshness. The late autumn rains have been transformed into tiny, lacy crystals that fall in soft heaps about the farmhouse, catching on tree limbs and rooftops as they make their lazy dance from the clouded skies. The earth looks refreshed, the nights are brightened by the added gleam, and the morning’s frosty crystals clinging to every surface sparkle like precious stones.
The first snows are welcomed on the farm, covering fall’s muddy season and insulating perennial crops. The snow also helps to hold down exposed topsoil against fierce wintry winds. I can remember one Christmas years back when there was very little snow. A farmer down the road had plowed his fields late in autumn, and the land lay bereft of any cover. Blown by strong winds, some of that topsoil spread over our own fields and yard. The incident is still known in our family as “The Brown Christmas.”
This year, the Thanksgiving snow pounced upon us. We were out in the farmyard all day, cleaning barns, sorting sheep, and mulching asparagus beds. The warm weather was prime opportunity to squeeze in as many of the last-minute autumn projects as possible before winter settled in. But come evening, the winds changed directions and began to blow cold, bringing first sleet and then snow.
However, there was one project we hadn’t been able to finish
that day. While the chickens and turkeys
had been moved into winter quarters earlier, the ducks were still in their
mobile unit on the edge of the field. By
morning, they were fairly snowed in, and we trudged out to rescue them, bundled
up in Carharts, scarves, and insulated gloves.
After this parade of quacking, we hurried back to open the Creamery in time for the morning’s first clients. Still a little out of breath and scrambling to ready the coffee, I apologized for not being as ready as usual.
“Were you out playing in the snow?” the client asked, chuckling.
“No, well, actually I was carrying ducks.”
The story then unfolded with much mirth at the thought of ungrateful ducks amidst a snowdrift being rescued by hearty farmers.
Snowdrifts often carry their own stories. At least on our farm, they seem to appear in more or less the same places each year—right in front of the garage doors or along the road by the north field, for example. While this can become irksome for the shovel-wielding adult, such piles of snow are play havens for children—especially when they are enhanced by the efforts of the snow plow.
I was eleven, and Kara was eight, when our family spent a
Mother had always warned us to be careful when digging tunnels into the snow-banks. There was no digging at all, of course, when the snow plow was at work. And there were precautions against chipping too far into the walls, making them thin and causing the top to collapse and bury us alive! But while it mitigated our efforts, such advice did not deter the eagerness with which we attacked those snow piles with large spoons or small shovels, hacking and chipping, pushing the remnants out and away from the hole until our suits and mittens were sopping wet.
Such hard work calls for a good mug of cocoa and time to sit by the warm wood fire on the fieldstone hearth. Beyond the expansive snow forts, there were snow angels to make if it was soft and powdery, or we could trounce big words one letter at a time into the snow, hoping they could be seen by the small aircraft that sometimes flew overhead. But if the snow was soft and sticky, the yard would soon be adorned with slithery snow dragons, imposing snow lions, or handsome snowmen with their accompanying snow dogs. And, of course, there was sledding!
As one grows older, sometimes the snow can become wearisome. An incident still fresh in my mind occurred last winter, when we were building the aquaponics greenhouse. The great metal rafters reached high into the sky, and we had recently finished the polycarbonate side walls and end panels. We were hoping to have the double-plastic roof in place, but winds had delayed that project, when it snowed. It was more than a little snow, wet, and heavy. After five hours straight of shoveling out the inside of the greenhouse, we were ready for that roof to go up!
But when the first snows of November come, I am always touched by the magical beauty and transformative nature of this crystallized water. There is a certain hush when it snows those large, lacy flakes. Looking out the window is like looking out from the inside of those shakable balls full of white flakes. The sun peaks from behind the clouds, and all is turned to shimmering patterns of light. All this has a way of bringing out the wonder of the inner child, the little voice inside that still has the urge to write big words in the snow or plop down and leave an angel in the whiteness.
Maybe that inner child will find you in these early snows this week. Drive safely, laugh often, and fix a steaming cup of cocoa by the fireside. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. northstarhomestead.com