Monday, January 16, 1:20-2:45 p.m.
Morning’s fierce north wind calmed to a gentle breeze, and by early afternoon the air was swinging gently from north to east, a lazy pendulum of a breeze, losing momentum as the temperature rose. Almost-still air amplified traffic noise from M-22, as well as occasional snowmobiles (heard but not seen). Even with cloud cover, the snow on the ground was blinding. White of sketchbook paper looked lavender by comparison with white of snow.
Directly east from the house, beyond the meadow and past the newest orchard trees, a line of straggly trees demarcates the old 80-acre line, and behind that line, as the land climbs from a stream to the north to wooded hills farther south, there have long been two small clearings. One of the trees dominating the line from a distance is a tall, short-needled conifer. Spruce? Its lower branches have been hacked off to make room for the easier passage of orchard equipment, but the tree remains very much a sentinel. Even close up, its height is obvious. Behind and on the hill above the sentinel the small clearings are beginning to fill in.
There are popples in this transition area (the pioneer tree of the region, not found in mature woods) and also young beeches and maples and ash trees and very small firs. Overhead the smallest branches and twigs of young beech trees criss-cross and interlace in a delicate filigree, the highest twigs graced with clusters of small catkins, two to four in a cluster. Perhaps deer have eaten lower ones.
Without yet a thick, mature forest canopy, grasses still grow thickly here, bowed over at present by snow, their heads buried, and the ground is not smooth and flat but lumpy with snow-covered vegetation and full of air pockets. It looks ideal for sheltering small rodents. Not one is stirring aboveground today, and there are no tracks in the new snow in the clearing, but many small animals may be tunneling underneath the snow. Once a dead grass stalk gave a sudden, quick, unnatural jerk, nothing like a wind-caused movement but more as if something had passed by underneath the snow and collided momentarily with the stalk.
A very old, gnarled tree, long dead, continues to stand, although it has lost the central trunk of an original three forking from the main, and all of its dead branches end in severed stumps. Bark still loosely surrounds parts of trunk and branches; other sections are bare. Its bark looks like black cherry, a forest tree in these parts, but the habit of its growth is more that of an old orchard cherry tree. Snow lies along its branches.
Not a single bird visits at this time of day, though there is an occasional one-note call from nearby, and crows (as always) caw from time to time as they fly over the orchard. Now and then a tiny fir tree releases a part of its load of accumulated snow.