Few beachwalkers leave prints in the icy sand this season, but steady westerlies sculpt mountains of accumulated lake ice into frigid, static waves on the Lake Michigan shore just west of the Bluecircle. South of St. Joseph the ice shelf is narrow, but to the north it stretches to the horizon. The wind has stacked the shelf ice, then partnered with February sun, a transient thaw and blowing sand to create a unique landscape at the foot of the dunes. Most years this scene soon would be melted, but current forcasts for at least another week of subnormal temperatures mean it will persist and evolve.
The warming February sun has been unable to stay ahead of daily bursts of lake effect snow. Conditions for cross-country skiing have been excellent both on the edges of the Bluecircle and at the nearby Sarett Nature Center. Although most of the Center trails are less than a mile long they loop together through a pine stand, several meadows, and above the Paw Paw River east of Coloma. Showshoe trails are separate from the groomed ski trails.
Paw Paw Lake is used by a few skiers, often taking advantage of snowmobile tracks to provide a path through the drifts. Today’s changing weather featured a fleeting “cloud rainbow” probably produced by the icy winds aloft.
O.K. Sophie, you’re not a red fox and still a puppy so we’ll let you keep all the Snow-Frisbee prey you can find, bury in the icy white, re-find and gnaw until edgeless. Snow flies as she pounces into the drifts, excavates all the way to frozen turf and frolics in the powdery depths. Proudly she carries this prey home from her walk half-hoping that tonight’s snowfall will hide it once again.
Four o’clock sun across the lake remains cold to the skin, but warms and softens the glint of still more lake effect powder. When airy flakes fall without wind they drape the landscape and blur the fox’s footprints. They hide the broken remains of successful hunts – feathers scattered from a daylight hawk’s raid and a pair of naked rabbit shins from the red fox’s feast. The ghostly evidence will soon emerge from a cemetery of melting drifts and blend quickly into the browns and fresh greens of promised Spring.
Wandering eyes, not looking down the road to the Monday morning workplace – a new way to begin the week after many years. This morning the snowbanks basked in the crisp sunshine while the tallest treetops glittered with frozen fog that had not reached the ground. Starkly white against the windless winter sky they awaited inevitable warming that would spoil the moment. Today there were no Jays in the sumac, but in the Conservancy a woodpecker was already drumming for its breakfast.