Earth Day: Snow

Last Thursday morning, I woke before dawn to the orange glow of light I associate with snowflakes diffusing the street lamp glare. When I opened the blind, I saw sticky wet flakes piling up.

Snow falling before dawn on Thursday. My view before dawn on Thursday.

I was thrilled. During March and early April, normally one of our wettest times of the year, we received zero, zip, nada precipitation and the weather was unusually warm and dry. Spring was looking brown.

Of course, it would snow after I had planted my tomato seedlings outside. I reminded myself that they were protected by water-filled tomato tepees, which function something like mini-greenhouses. Good thing I had thrown a layer of insulating row-cover fabric over the tepees the night before.

Daylight and more snow.... Daylight and more snow….

As the snow continued to fall, I reassured myself the tomato plants would be just fine. When it finally stopped snowing at mid-morning and the sun came out, I peeked and, sure enough, each plant was unharmed.

The snow melted that afternoon, and the creek rose and chuckled. I checked the official precipitation total: 0.6 inches, about a third of what we needed to bring us up to normal.

That evening, clouds rolled in and more feathery flakes began to fall. Great, I thought, more moisture. (I covered the tomato tepees again.)

View down the front steps as feathery clumps of flakes begin to fall Thursday evening. Flakes begin to fall on Thursday evening.

I woke Friday morning at five o’clock to the “pow!” of an electrical transformer exploding somewhere nearby. I got up sleepily and checked the clock in the kitchen–the power was still on, so I went back to bed.

The next transformer blew at twenty to six, and when I pulled up the blind and looked outside, it was snowing hard and downtown was dark–no street lamp glow.

A blanket of snow so clumpy it shoveled up in slabs like wet cement. A blanket of snow so clumpy it shoveled up in slabs like wet cement.

I pulled on a jacket on over my night-tee and tights, added a cap and mittens,  grabbed the snow shovel from the front door and shoveled a path across the front deck and down the front steps so I could shake the heavy, wet accumulation off my crabapple saplings, which were bent entirely double, their canopies on the ground.

I was afraid the trunks had snapped, but when I released the upper branches from the weight of the snow the trees slowly straightened up. By quarter past six, I had shoveled my front sidewalk and my neighbor’s too, and my back was feeling the effort. I went inside to write and then do yoga, carefully stretching my back.

At seven-thirty, it was still snowing, so I donned layers again and went back out to shovel another six wet inches that had accumulated atop the eight or so inches from earlier.

A pause in the snowfall.... A pause in the snowfall….

I heard tree branches break nearby, cracking like rifle shots. Plows groaned, moving the heavy accumulation. The power came on downtown, went out again, and flickered back on again. The snow kept falling.

I was relieved when the snow finally quit a few hours later. (My back was relieved too.) I measured the accumulation: 20 inches, for a total of 26 inches including Thursday morning’s snow.

Sunshine, sloppy snow, and soon, birds perched on every clear spot, even the streets. Sunshine, sloppy snow, and soon, birds perched on every clear spot, even the streets.

By the time the sun returned to melt the wet blanket Friday afternoon, birds were perched on my front walk, on the streets, in every clear spot. Cerulean blue mountain bluebirds, robins, juncos, and horned larks with their patterned faces–all exhausted by the storm and in search of dry spots to rest. If the snow hadn’t stopped when it did, I wonder how many of them would have survived.

Our total precipitation from 48 hours of spring storm? One-point-six inches of water, almost a quarter of what we receive in an average year. I guess that storm was our early Earth Day present.

And my tomatoes? They survived just fine.

A stupice heirloom tomato plant, cozy inside it's wall-o-water "greenhouse." (Thanks, Renee's Seeds!) A Stupice tomato plant, cozy inside its water-insulated tepee. (Thanks, Renee’s Garden, for the hardy and delicious varieties!)