Monday, March 14, 2005

Winter patterns

The snow came for a visit again Saturday night. Saturday day it was warm and sunny and we went for a bike ride along the South Boulder Creek path. After dinner it was so warm we even went out for ice cream. Then we woke up Sunday to 12 inches of dense spring snow.

The robins got fat, puffing out their feathers to keep warm, looking cute and slightly indignant, like round apples in the trees.

Rees and his friend next door built an excellent snow fort out of the sticky snow.

Greg and I tried to go cross-country skiing, but as is the pattern with these spring snows, all the snow had melted on the sidewalks and the paths so we went for a walk instead.

When I walk the kids to school after a snow, I notice that almost always, miraculously, the paths are clear. Nobody shovels them and I didn't understand how the snow knew to be so considerate. Was it the texture of the pavement that kept it from sticking? But then while most parts of the pavement were clear, other parts were covered with snow. Some driveways needed to be shoveled, others didn't. Were they made of different materials?

Over time the patterns stay the same, there are some places that melt first and some places that are the last to melt, even when the sun has not been out. I finally realized it's the heat retained in the pavement that melts the snow from the bottom up. The sun here (at altitude) is especially intense, and, as evidenced by the snow, the places that absorb the sun can hold that heat for days. Even with no sun, you can see the places where the shadow of a conifer would cross the path or where there are drains or tunnels under the sidewalk, drawing the heat away. These places are white like a reverse shadow.

I enjoy walking and seeing these patterns and think about how the snow is more insulated on the grass and melts slower there. And how that nice blanket of snow is insulating the bulbs and spring flowers that were beginning to bloom. We planted our rosemary in a sunny spot next to some big rocks that we hope will maintain enough heat to keep the rosemary happy. It just might work. The rocks, like the pavement, do melt first, looking like steppingstones across the snowy fields, revealing the microclimates. Then I think about how, on a different scale, cities are like these heat-islands of stone dotting the landscape.

On our walk this morning the snowflakes were so big you could see their crystal structure. I've read that the best way to see the crystals of snowflakes is to catch them on black velvet fabric. The velvet, like the grass, insulates them and keeps them from melting too quickly and the black gives greatest contrast to the ice crystals. I should keep a piece of velvet and a magnifying glass on hand just for such great mornings.

Spring break is next week and we plan to go camping. My theory is that because we've had the snow now, it will be warm then. Fingers crossed, but at this time of year, there are no guarantees.

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