Last night I saw snow, enough to remind me of years spent in more northern lands. It fell so hard and fast that my photos showed white streaks crossing the field of vision. The grassy yard and nearby trees, usually alight with cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and wrens, were strangely silent the following morning.
A colleague said she had salted her driveway before the snowstorm, but it didn’t work. My neighborhood roads got no treatment, and no vehicles left the area that day.
Salt is excellent for removing ice but not so good for eight inches of snow. Although I am hopeful that the roads will be cleared so I can get out with my vehicle, I love seeing the snow on the ground. Unbidden, the thought comes that I am an old man with a bad heart, and this could be the last time I see the snow. It’s not likely, but possible.
Salt lowers the melting point of ice, gets it off the roadways, and allows tires to get traction, especially when mixed with light gravel. When I leave my apartment overlooking the Tennessee River valley below, I hope for no ice on the roadway. I hope for days when salt is unnecessary.
Forty-degree weather will melt snow fast, but eight inches is a lot of snow. Even with a layer of salt beneath it, plenty will be left over for nighttime temperatures to refreeze. I will walk to work on Friday morning.
In his magnificent book, The Forest Unseen, David George Haskell recorded his observations of a square meter of virgin forest, never cut. It was on the property of the University of the South. He observed this square meter for a year, and the winter portions include stories of snow, ice, cold temperatures, and the sometimes surprisingly warm days of winter. He called the location “the Mandala.”
Most of Haskell’s observations were biological, but he made forays into the realm of physical sciences. He examined ice and snow and commented on the six-sided snowflake. Haskell described how Johannes Kepler, the discoverer of night sky wonders, took a break from astronomy and studied snowflakes. Kepler rejected the theory of the atom, regaining popularity in his day. He examined the pomegranate and the wax cells in bee hives and commented on the repeating six-sided structure in each.
Haskell says that Kepler might have had more luck had he accepted the existence of atoms. I am not so sure that this would have led to the discovery of the six-sided ring formed by six water molecules. Kepler would also have to have known about the weak bond between the hydrogen atoms of one molecule and the oxygen atom of an adjoining molecule, credited with the hexagonal structure.
Some health food purveyors have recently discovered this fact about water and begun marketing “hexagonal water.” Caveat Emptor, all water is hexagonal or not, depending on temperature. Any consumer can have hexagonal water in quantities equal to the capacity of their ice maker. Lest some defenders of the faith generally take this as an attack on health foods, but for the record, it is not. Some health food claims are undoubtedly legitimate, but every form of business has practitioners, both honest and otherwise. Some are mere hucksters, P.T. Barnums, looking for those proverbial suckers, one of which is born every minute.
The hexagonal ring structure makes ice expand as it freezes and cools. This is why ice floats on top of the water. I have seen fish trapped in ice and apparently frozen solid. When the ice thaws, they may revive and skid about on their fins on top of the ice until they find a hole and return to the pond from whence they came. The sight of fish swimming in puddles atop the ice astonished me.
On this particular day, though, I observed the clouds at sunset and saw a pink wash from a setting sun. Of course, the sunset is never visible here on the mountain's east side. When I came inside to work on a project, I looked out the window and was back outside. I did not want to miss one minute of the fading pink light on the snow.