“Storm in the Outback”: An Essay

Gasp! A blog post! Okay, yeah, this has been the longest dry stretch since I started this blog four (!!!) years ago, but I’m resurfacing long enough to share with you a piece of writing that’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while now. This is a story from the three months I spent in Australia back in 2009, which I’ve posted about previously (specifically regarding echidnas and a giant dust storm). I fiddled around a bit with the idea of submitting this piece to a literary magazine or several, but ultimately decided to just post it here. It’s around 1200 words; let me know what you think. Continue reading ““Storm in the Outback”: An Essay”

Slope Aspect and Snowmelt

With high temperatures reaching the fifties this week, the snow is finally – and slooooowly – starting to melt. However, it doesn’t melt at a uniform rate everywhere on the property. A number of factors can affect how fast the snow melts in a particular spot, one of which is aspect, the direction a slope faces.

Here is what the northern shore of one of the lakes on campus looked like this morning:


And here’s the southern shore of the same lake:


On the northern side of the lake, the sloping shore is facing toward the south, so it gets more sun each day and the snow melts faster as a result. You can see this same effect just driving along the roads here, with bare ground on the northern side of the road while the southern side still has a layer of snow.

I’m going to be donning long underwear and snowshoes to trek into the woods this afternoon, but there is a glimmer of hope in our weather forecast for the weekend!


Blame It on the Lake

There’s a reason why we have snow on the ground when most of Wisconsin still doesn’t–we’re far enough north to catch lake effect snow from Lake Superior. Most of the Great Lakes are too big and deep to completely freeze over in the winter (Lake Erie is the only exception). As a mass of cold air moves across the surface of the lake, it picks up moisture, which it then dumps as snow when it reaches land. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is one of the snowiest parts of the country, and as a lot of you know, I live right on the Wisconsin/UP border.

The Great Lakes snowbelts. In French, but you get the idea.

I’m not complaining. Nothing quite compares with the quiet of woods in snow.

Coming Home

When my plane finally touched down at the tiny Central Wisconsin Airport on Saturday, it was already getting dark. (I was originally supposed to get back Friday night. I sent a long email to Delta’s customer service yesterday morning. That’s all I’m going to say about that.) I had a two-and-a-half-hour drive north from there to get home to Land O’ Lakes.

There was no snow on the ground at all at the airport, and I wondered about the three plus inches that had supposedly fallen up north. I stopped to get something to eat at a Culver’s and found the place full of people with their eyes fixed on a muted television showing the Badgers game. Yup, definitely back in Wisconsin. (Culver’s is a Wisconsin-based fast food chain – picture a place midway between McDonald’s and Steak & Shake, but that offers fried cheese curds as a side. Cheese curds are our unofficial state food.)

Since it’s officially the holiday season now, I listened to Christmas music as I drove north, watching the edges of the road in my headlights for any glimpse of snow. Eventually the freeway collapsed down to a two-lane country highway. Trees crowded out farm fields and closed in around the road. A dusting of snow became a blanket.

So anyway, I’m back home in the North Woods now, and I’ve been working all day and haven’t had time to get out and take photos or anything yet, but I will soon. I’m just glad that winter finally showed up while I was gone.

A Sparrow in the Snow

When I left for spring break, the season of leaves, flowers and bugs was just beginning, and I was convinced that when I returned a week later the North Woods would be green and blooming. Well, here is the view from my patio in Land O’ Lakes around noon yesterday.


A very fluffy, very cold-looking White-throated Sparrow, the first one I’d seen this spring, actually took shelter on my patio while the snow was falling, giving me a chance to shoot some very mediocre photos of it through the glass door.

Here is my fun fact about White-throated Sparrows: some of them have white stripes on their heads and some have tan stripes, but the difference isn’t age or sex; they’re just different colors, like people with different-colored hair. But, what’s really interesting is that even though either sex can have either color of stripes, they preferentially pair up with birds of the other color pattern to raise young, and white-stripers are more aggressive and territorial than tan-stripers.

Nature is weird.

Signs of Spring

This is a Pickerel Creek phenology post.

High temp yesterday – 55°F
Breezy and sunny!
Sunrise at 6:19AM, sunset at 5:57PM – 11 hours and 22 minutes of daylight! Nearly an hour gained in the three weeks since my last phenology post!

This may not look like the most springlike picture, with all the snow and bare trees (no sign of leaf buds breaking yet), but it certainly felt like spring yesterday when I took this photo. I was keeping my eyes peeled for signs of spring as I hiked out to the creek – drowsy red-bellied snakes sunning on logs on exposed south-facing banks? Early Mourning Cloak butterflies on the wing? Maybe a wood frog, or a chipmunk emerging from hibernation? Returning migratory birds? I saw none of these things, but in a snow-free patch of ground at the base of a tree, I finally found this.

The very beginnings of a spring wildflower? (The bigger compound leaf in the foreground was the size of my thumbnail.) If so, I’m not sure what kind, but I was happy to see it. Spring is coming!

Snowed In!

Here is the sight that greeted us outside the windows when we got up yesterday morning.

That foot of snow on top of the car was not there the evening before. In the afternoon, after finishing with work, I attempted to go for a walk in the woods and learned that even with snowshoes it’s exhausting to break trail in eighteen inches of fresh fluffy snow.

Fresh snow seems to bring out what color there is in this muted landscape, like the blush of peeling birch bark. (I like this photo.)

As of right now (I am writing this Wednesday evening) my car is still buried. I can’t remember the last time I was literally snowed in!

Also, incidentally – today, March 1, is the two-year anniversary of my first blog post. Happy blogiversary to me!