We've had quite a bit of snow lately, most of it falling in long, relentless storms of tiny flakes: the kind of snowstorm that softens the edges of not only the physical world but also the world of sound, and, somehow, the province of emotion.
For some reason, ravens seem to be exceptions to that blankness; their silhouettes nearly as sharp as on a clear day, their calls and the rattle of their wings as carrying, their characters as substantial. It's as if they are drawing all the world's crispness into themselves as a joke, leaving the rest of us to drift around, muffled and half-present while they chuckle.
In my opinion, no other trees in Southeast Alaska are as suffused with sheer character as shore pines (Pinus contorta contorta). Over hundreds of years, they grow into an incredible variety of shapes, pressed and bent and corkscrewed by snow and wind and time.
Then, after they live out their multi-century lives and begin to decompose, their unique characters emerge even more strongly. Most have twisted trunks (according to a small study a friend and I did last winter, almost all trunks twist to the right). Some, like this one, twist in incredibly tight spirals, while others are more relaxed. Over time, they begin to look less like tree trunks and more like frayed and rotting ropes, their fibers gone soft and silver.
On a walk yesterday, 1000 feet elevation. Little grainy patches of snow were all that remained from last weekend's snowfall, and the bog grasses/sedges were matted and glum. Wind was gusting, making alder leaves skitter across the road.
The ermine didn't skitter–it rippled, moving along the ground like a minnow along a streambed. I held my breath as it crossed a small meadow and dived into the gloom under a hemlock.
Then I walked on, with leaves skittering around my feet. This is my memory of that encounter.
The Weather Service says we had a dry October, but that doesn't mean sunny. The days have been windswept, cold, and cloudy, for the most part. On my walks I've been watching the tops of the leafless alders, fascinated by the pattern of dark branches against shining sky.
It all looks so cold and lifeless… and then I'll walk past another tree and hundreds of small birds (siskins and probably redpolls too) will explode from the branches and swirl into the sky. They'll eddy for a moment like a river current, then descend to clutter the branches of the next alder. Then, as I approach, they'll take off again, all in unison so that hundreds of tiny, soft wing-claps merge into a great and startling "whump".
This sketch was inspired by those patterns of branches and birds. I haven't quite got the gestures of the alder branches, but I think it captures some of that restless motion.