The Theology in a Snowflake

Do you know the spell of a fresh snowfall? That unmistakable something that is in the air and in the blood, the dazzling beauty, intense and subtle and wild and gentle, transforming the world with tiny feathers of frozen water.  I want to stare and stare, and soak in all the delicate magnificence of the silent poetry of a snowfall. It is calming yet exciting, mesmerizing yet energizing. I want to laugh, and run, and dance, and exclaim like a child on Christmas morning. There is a little flame of pure joy in the heart of every snowflake, and millions of them dance through the air at a time, turning our little country hollow into a fairy land. I don’t know what it is about a fresh snowfall, particularly the first couple of the season, but somehow it gets into the blood like a little spark and surge of energy. The cold somehow doesn’t seem as cold. The wind, sweeping up eddies of snow, doesn’t seem as bitter. The blinding white makes me want to open my eyes even wider and take in even more.
IMG_9240e“A million feathers falling down, a million stars that touch the ground. / So many secrets to be found amid the falling snow.” Thus reads a line of one of Enya’s songs, which haunts me every winter. Each of those snowflakes is a tiny heavenly mystery, a tiny theology lesson, each attesting to the creative might of our Creator God and His power over all things great and small. Each is obedient to the laws of nature which He set in place, obedient to the freezing point of water and how water molecules align themselves when cooling, obedient to gravity, obedient to updrafts and downdrafts. Not a single snowflake acts outside the will of the Father. Each is unique. Each is a miracle. Each is a masterpiece. Each by their beauty and uniqueness attests to God’s perfect goodness and graciousness. What a glorious “extra” that God wasn’t at all bound to provide! So much glory poured into one perfect snowflake! And what a transformation is brought about by a whole sky full, loosed upon our Hills! IMG_9246eSo out I ventured this morning into the snowglobe world of whirling, dancing snowflakes, with my camera and the dogs, to wonder and marvel and delight. True to form, the dogs loved it and the cats hated it. The cats sulked while the dogs played. Trixie and Opal snapped and snarled in frisky ferocity, sometimes trotting down the driveway like little first grade girls, then running madcap around the whole yard, out across the dam, tearing around and rolling in the snow.

They clearly enjoyed the snow every bit as much as I did. Although I’m guessing they weren’t struck by the theology lesson.

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Frosted Morning

November in the Black Hills begins what becomes my favorite season: winter. We still have a month to go until the calendar says it is winter, but we’ve already had mornings where the thermometer reads 10 chilly degrees Fahrenheit, we’ve had snow, frosted sunrises, and cold-chapped hands. We’ve had a couple of “cold spells” and some persistent snow cover. The last few days of fall will run their course in winter-like chill and spring-like warmth. I love this time of year.

 

 

The Last Days of Winter

Winter comes and goes too quickly. I love the snow and the chill and the heavy clouded skies shot through with sunbeams, shedding snowflakes like tears of joy, and frosted, laughing breezes scattering the ice and snow and creating a second snowstorm. I love the vim and vigor of wintertime, when the earth itself is fast asleep but the air is bursting with mischief, and what creatures dare to brave the cold are full of life and energy.IMG_3679eIMG_3791eOur last days of winter trickled past like a melting stream – Winter, with spring interspersed, days of chill and frost and fog and snow intermixed with days of warm sun, warm breezes, and a cool, blue sky. Snow still lingered in the sheltered places on the north sides of hills, or on the banks of the creeks down where the sun doesn’t reach, but elsewhere the springtime is bursting out with new life and fresh vitality.IMG_3824eDown by Battle Creek at Big Falls, catkins, like gold-green pendants, hung in delicate grace on the limbs of shrubby trees, and the grass is greening up beneath last year’s brown. The gold of last summer’s rabbit brush still catches the sunlight, but new growth will come up soon to replace the old.IMG_4126eThe passing of winter is bittersweet. We likely will get more snow this next month or so, but the sparkling beauty of winter is past, the earth too warm to preserve frost or snow for long. And it isn’t just the snow, but the mood of the winter. The silvery silence, the frosty sunlight, the laughing, sparkling mornings, the clear, cold starlight. It is seeing my breath in the frozen air, coming in from outside to thaw, the fiery tingling in my fingers as they start to warm up again, the sound of a fire crackling in the woodstove, the layers of blankets to keep cozy at night. IMG_3577eBut springtime has honeyed the air, with the musky-sweet of thawing ground and moldering leaves, the delicious savor of pine sap, fragrant in the warming air.IMG_4171eThe last days of winter have wafted by like a spent but sweet breeze. And spring is now here.

Snow and Puppies

And the winter continues! Springtime seemed to be well on its way last week and early this week, with record breaking or nearly record breaking temperatures, but winter is not yet gone. It snowed most of the day yesterday, and got heavier into the evening. There was probably a good 8 inches on my truck this morning, and good deep snow all the way up the driveway! Beautiful!IMG_3158IMG_3150Yesterday afternoon we played out in the snow with the dogs for a little while, trying to get Trixie and Opal better acquainted. Trixie is such a puppy-at-heart still, with all the rambunctious energy of a puppy but with the size and strength of an adult dog. She doesn’t have an aggressive bone in her body, but we don’t quite trust her to play nicely with Opal. She just gets so excited and bowls Opal over and tramples on her, until Opal turns into a shrieking frenzy with her tail between her legs. Opal’s reaction to Trixie was a comical blend of cowardice and puppy indignation. She is a bit of a drama queen.
IMG_3130We finally put Trixie on her cable so she would be limited but could still interact with Opal. Opal figured out that she could easily get out of Trixie’s reach, but would come primly to just within Trixie’s reach and allow Trixie to nose her around a little bit before running off. We’re pretty sure Opal is going to be the dominant dog of the pair, if she isn’t already. IMG_3143Snow and puppies. Not a bad deal.

Laura Elizabeth

Hiking | Community Caves

The hike today to the well-kept secret of the Community Caves in Spearfish Canyon just took its place as the most exciting hike I’ve ever done. Sarah, Jake and I were discussing this on our way back down, and “foolhardy” was the choice word we selected for this hike. In all fairness, none of us had tried this hike before so we didn’t have a perspective on what it would be like in the winter and (just to be sure, I googled Community Caves while writing this review) other hiking reviews don’t say much about winter conditions, other than that it is beautiful and crampons are recommended. So this hiking review comes with some serious conditions applied to it. Please read to the end.
IMG_2960eThe Community Caves are located off the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, 2.7 miles south of Spearfish. In the winter, the ice formations can be seen from the road and look deceptively small. Parking is at a pullout just after mile marker 13. The trailhead is across the road from the pullout and crosses Spearfish Creek.IMG_2900eThe hike is short, no more than a half mile from the trailhead to the caves, but if anyone tells you it is an easy hike, they are pulling your leg or haven’t ever hiked it before. Granted, it would be a lot easier in the summer without a sheet of ice for a trail, but this still is a strenuous, though short, hike in. The brunt of the trail is up what appeared to be a gravel and boulder slide, a very steep creekbed, and the last 20 feet or so is even steeper and muddy. It isn’t a hike. It is a scramble. Even in the summer, this would not be recommended for children. Some reviews suggest hesitantly that it might not be good for children, but unless you have hiked it already and know your kids can handle it, do not try it. Or be prepared to turn around. I also wouldn’t recommend you try taking a dog on this hike, for that matter.IMG_2905ePerhaps the sheet of ice for a trail should have deterred us, but one doesn’t drive 2 hours to get to a trailhead only to turn back because of ice. I mean, its winter – What do you expect? The trail got steeper and slicker, but the ice formations loomed above us and there were other climbers ahead of us, so it couldn’t be too bad, right?IMG_2906e Fortunately, the little tops of rocks sticking above the ice actually made decent footholds, but one wrong step and it would have been a bumpy slide to the bottom…So we plowed on ahead and made it to within 20 feet of the top before we were stopped by the ice. The patch where Jake is standing in the above picture is the furthest we could get going straight up. Jake’s handy rope got us across the icy stretch and we scrambled up the muddy slope into the shadow of the Cave chamber. It was incredible. IMG_2919eI had heard that it was beautiful, but pictures don’t do it justice. That much ice really does appear blue in the shadows! Pigeons chortled to themselves in the recesses of the cave, and ice pillars fed by trickles of water grew on the back wall of the cave. There were remnants of a campfire. A massive wall of ice enclosed one end of the cave, forming a dim, blue chamber. It really was stunning. IMG_2937eAlthough the entire hike is slick, the main danger issue isn’t the ice on the ground – That just requires caution, careful footing, and being very deliberate about where you put your feet. The main issue was the ice up in the air, supposedly attached to the canyon wall. The hike back down went pretty well until we heard a giant crack and basketball-sized clumps of ice came flying right at us. There was a whole ravine of area that the clumps could have flown at, but of course they flew right at our three selves, and we were in enough of a precarious position that we couldn’t duck or move. I took one on the leg and another square between my shoulder blades, and Sarah spent the next five minutes fishing a clump of mud out of her eye. Miraculously, no one was hurt! We quit dawdling (if we even had been at that point) and got down as quickly as we safely (?) could.

Lessons learned from today’s hike:

1) Do not hike this after a period of thaw. While this seems rather obvious in hindsight, it wasn’t so obvious going in, but melting giant pillars of ice  become crashing boulders of ice when the temperatures rise. Who would’a thought…

2) Take some rope. Jake actually left his rope tied to a tree, and there was already another one there, so we were able to get back down the worst part. But do yourself a favor and take some rope anyway, just in case.

3) Take gloves, even if the weather is nice (but refer back to #1. If it is nice enough to go without gloves in the winter, it is too nice to do the hike anyway). Gloves, because of #2.

4) Seriously, wear good shoes. There were some other young people up there today in completely inappropriate footwear. Even in the summer, wear good hiking boots. In the winter, take crampons or YakTrax or something. We didn’t.

5) Don’t hike alone. Although generally not recommended to hike solo, for this it really would be foolish to hike it alone.IMG_2959eIn spite of the foolhardy nature of this hike, we made it out alive and have great pictures to show for it. Coming down was (surprisingly) the easy part, given how slick it was. We all were picturing sliding the whole way on our rear ends. We made it down without incident and very relieved. No broken bones or heads. It is worth the scramble to see it. Just please don’t do it after a thaw.

Laura Elizabeth

Simple Joys

Winter is a time of brief, fleeting moments of dazzling beauty, of sights and sounds and silences that come and go with as little permanence as a snowflake, but with the brilliance of a diamond. That overwhelming moment is gone in an instant, leaving only the impression on one’s mind. The enchantment of the first snowfall melts in a few hours. The power of a blizzard wears itself out in a day. The snow cover of two months melts in two days. The leaden, snow-laden skies give way to cloudless blue, and winter breezes turn warm and then cold again. How changeable the season is!
IMG_2859eMom and I were able to thoroughly enjoy the delights of the changeable season today – It was strange to be hiking in short sleeves, with 70-degree temperatures and warm, sweet breezes, while trudging through 10-inch drifts and getting snow in our boots! Trixie, ever the snow puppy, pranced and raced and disappeared, entirely in her element. I would call her, only to look around and find her sprawled in a patch of snow, eating it and rolling in it and burying her face in it. A dog’s simple pleasures.
IMG_2877ePart of the delight of winter is the joy of seeing things in ways we aren’t accustomed to in the rest of the year, particularly in the summer and spring. Those months are full to bursting with new life, and my attention is so drawn from color to color, from the new blossom like stained glass in the sunlight to the bluebirds on the wire overhead to the new fawns with their unmistakable freckles to the brilliant blue of sky and green of grass. But in the winter, you have to look with different eyes. Then you can see the watercolor painting in the snowfall, the etched crystal work in the frosty window or frozen creek, the tapestry of spun gold in the grasses, the white jewels in the snowdrift.
IMG_2885eWe were nearing home, walking through an ancient creekbed, when we caught sight of an old bucket, rusted through and almost flattened, and nearby were a bunch of tin cans and some broken glass. I was thrilled. We had found a junk pile from the homesteading or mining days, of which our place saw a good deal! The whole property is pocketed with old mining pits, remnants of bygone days. We dug around a little in the grass, and found four intact glass jars and bottles, and a white enamel pot, which unfortunately is frozen stiff in the dirt. It looks to be in one piece. As soon as it warms up in the spring and the ground thaws out, I want to dig around and see what else was discarded! Who knows how many times we’ve walked past this junk pile in the summer and never saw it for the tall grass! IMG_2887eSimple joys on a glorious winter day.

Laura Elizabeth