Friday, January 15, 2010


Snow makes it possible to see things that have been plainly visible, but extremely hard to detect. An example is the hill that supports the forest. The outline of a leaf covered hill is perfectly camouflaged behind a screen of tree trunks and branches. Covering the hill with snow is like injecting a tumor with radioactive dye to make it glow. Now you can easily see every dip or swale on the hilltop and examine the overall patterns of slope, aspect and drainage. This information allows you to predict types and locations of various microclimates within the forest. These microclimates often harbor specific plant communities and by searching them out, you can make some very interesting botanical discoveries.

It’s often hard to get a holistic image of the complexity of the forest understory. In the summer, leaves make it difficult to sort out the various species and layers. When the leaves are off, the tiny twigs are almost impossible to see against the leaf litter. A blanket of snow on the ground allows each woody stem to be viewed against a white background. There’s not other time of the year that you could have looked and seen the amazing variety of species and sizes at this spot. It would really be interesting to have a series of annual pictures of this spot in snowy conditions. Maybe I’ll be able to show that to you in 20 years.

The snow highlights stumps left after the previous owner harvested cedar logs 25 years ago. There certainly hasn’t been much regrowth since those cedars were removed.

Rusty barb wire from an abandoned fence is highly visible against the snowy background. Old fence such as this can certainly be a hazard, but I have reasons for leaving it in place. Fences typically mark the boundaries between two different land uses. Differing use histories mean that the regeneration of plant communities probably followed different lines in each area. Crossing an old fence line is likely to take you into a new mixture of plants. The area directly beneath the fence wire was often spared the intensive use found to either side and is another good place to search for odd plant species.

I posted some shots of pre-snow Multiflora Rose thickets a couple of weeks ago, but they just couldn’t display the menace seen here. The white snow background let’s you appreciate the complex tangle of thorn covered rose canes. The cold I felt while taking this shot didn’t produce near the shivers I feel when thinking about crawling into that mess to cut the roses off at the base.

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