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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Words for Snow

Sugar Snow, Corn snow, powder... no, not the %#$*&%$ that it seem most folks think when the forecast calls for solid white precipitation on the day before Vernal Equinox.

A bit ago, I wrote about how much I love the late winter snows. Yes, I also like the early spring ones, though we won't be there until tomorrow. I haven't had a chance to chat with my maple syrup making friends, but my guess is that this is what the old timers called the "sugar snow." Not that it looks or feels like either the granulated white, or fluffy powdered, sweetness on the grocers' shelves... no, it was named by those who tapped the trees to collect the sap that was a main source of sweet in the early days in the Northlands. After the sap starts to rise (and flow out the holes made through the tree bark, through the spigot securely embedded in each hole and drip down into the collection bucket for later boiling down into syrup or boiling farther into maple sugar) there is a limited window of time to collect sap. Once the tree is again filled with its life blood and ready to leaf and grow for another season, the flow stops. The cold weather accompanying a maple syrup season snowfall, sends the tree into reverse gear, I guess. "Gee, snow! Not time to grow yet" I guess it would be thinking, if trees thought as we do. Then, temperatures warm again and the flow begins again. The snow has lengthened the season, allowing for more sap to be collected, more syrup (and in these days, profit) for the farmer.

Corn snow, on another hand, does nothing to help nor hinder the growth of maize, which will not be planted for many weeks after the last snow has left and not until the ground is thoroughly warm. Corn snow is called for its texture; little pellets, resembling miniature Styrofoam beads comprise this snow. Not as wet as sleet, as solid and hard as hail, I think they may have been named for the smaller grains of other cereal crops in England rather than the larger grains of US corn. We often see it as the first flurry in the fall and a bit fell at the beginning of this equinoctial storm. It is caused by the snow melting and refreezing as it falls.

Powder snow, much beloved by skiers, I have not seen much of here in Maine, though I am quite familiar with the stuff from living on the Western Slope of Colorado. This light, fluffy snow one could almost call "dry." If the power was out and you needed to melt snow on the wood stove for its water, THIS would not be the snow you were wishing for! I have hung more than one load of wash on the line during a powder snowfall and the clothing easily got dry before enough snow fell on it to give it the least bit of dampness.

I also want to touch on the concept of equinoctial storms.  Equinoctial storms are storms popularly supposed to occur at the time of the spring and fall equinoxes. The manor snowfall happening today in Maine definitely
counts, though weather records show that storms are not more frequent or severe around the Vernal or Autumnal equinoxes than on other periods. The notion about equinoctial storms in one form or other dates back at least to 1748 and probably originated among seafaring people.

 I know, looking at weather records, that it is not at all unusual to have small accumulations of snow fall, in my area, through the middle of April. Our average frost free date is mid-May, but the data shows me that, in the past, we have had snowfall as much as 4" almost on that date! It surely makes farming fun, trying to out-guess the elements, doesn't it! So while some of us may feel that winter has gone on far too long, here in my neighborhood I know it can take a long time to wind down.

"Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and revel in the influences of each." So I enjoy this sugar snow, plan to contact a fellow farmer for a bit of syrup from his trees, and parked the car at the end of the drive when I came home from work this noon. My shovel and I will make short work of the berm the town plow throws in front of my wheels and we'll be off to work as usual tomorrow before dawn.