Snow is always a treat here in Western Washington. Our warm ocean climate rarely delivers the right conditions in the Puget Lowlands for a winter wonderland. In November 2022, a winter weather advisory went into affect, and snow began sticking to the road and trees with enthusiasm. In just a few hours, our landscape was blanketed in gauzy white flocking. The animals were tucked away in dry barn and our cats had tucked up on the porch in comfy quilted chairs. I got out the snow shovel to monitored paths and accesses around the property keeping doors and walkways open. Snow can turn from fluff to cement in hours here, so active clearing saved hard labor later. Our driveway remained easily passable with four wheel drive, and no one missed work or play.
At the farm, chickens rebelled against the cold footing and hung out in the covered sheds and barn. The sheep lazed away at their hay and rested in fresh straw bedding. I’ve been forking loose hay from a big round bale, and refreshing my skill with a pitchfork. That same fork helps me clear ice out of the drinking troughs. Cold weather, even with beautiful snow, makes livestock systems more challenging. I could get water heaters, but we get so few truly cold snaps like this, I can handle ice breaking for now. Back in Vermont, I used an ax all winter to crack ice half a foot think. Here in Western Washington, it’s not more than an inch thick. If we drop into the teens, I carry hot water from the house to top off overnight troughs, keeping them from freezing. We’re not there yet this winter- thank goodness! Snow like this does a lot of insulating. It’s helpful for re-hydrating the soil with slow drip too.
The winter splendor of snowy days is charming, so long as you have a warm place waiting your return. Gratitude for home, wood stove heat, and the time to enjoy winter weather, rather than fighting it. There was plenty of extra work brought on by the snow, but it’s playful atmosphere was not lost on humans or furry friends. The dogs were especially frisky and light. Gill seems to use the fresh powder as a sort of bathing while basking enjoyment. He’ll lay down and rub through the snow on his sides and back, rolling and swimming through the frozen water. He could also just be playing around. Maybe a little of both. Valley does this too, only she prefers running, and goads Gill into occasional romps that end with a stalemate. Movements are a little more exaggerated and carefree, but action in snow does take more energy too. We all got a workout running and chasing around the land.
The slow watering snow brings for the ground is greatly needed. Moisture has only reached down a few inches since the fall. Frozen water sits on the surface and then drips into the soil during warmup periods of the day, refreezing in the evening to slow the saturation. It’s brilliant for ground that’s been parched by summer heat and sun. It feels like the future climate for our region will continue to shift in this direction of more extreme climate change. Winters will be colder, with more snow and ice, and summer will be hotter, with less rain and more triple digit highs. Banking water in the soil is the only way to combat these weather stresses on the landscape. Our swale designs support the slow and sink method of tending water.
Rain events here have shifted from weeks of misty sprinkles to afternoon deluges with an inch or more at once. The landscape this year was so dry, the fall rain ran right off the hillsides and into the rivers heading out to sea. At this point, snow was the only way to slow and sink water efficiently. Snow like this in November is as wild as the 90F October days with wildfire smoke this year. I can foresee, in another 5 years, smoke all summer into 90Fs October, burns continuing on the west side, and come November, snow on the ground for months, much like New England. It’s the kind of weather livestock cannot thrive in. We’re keeping that in mind as we plan through the next few years of EEC Forest Stewardship. Tree planting is becoming the next big shift, shrinking the farm production for more forestry restoration. That remains the ultimate goal of this great adventure at EEC Forest Stewardship.
Winter months offer a little more time for reflection, planning, and enjoying the moment. Cold, crisp evenings outside while flickering firelight keeps spirits warm and bright. May all who read these words carry warmth in their hearts, abundance in life, and joy in the days ahead. Happy New Year from EEC Forest Stewardship!