The Last Snow?

What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.

~John Steinbeck

Over the weekend I made a quick trip to my parents’ home in southwest Virginia . Like many regions in the East, their area has had a long cold winter. But, I am one of those strange few that likes cold weather. And this was the first year in several that I did not get my snow fix by spending time in Yellowstone, so I was happy to see a few flakes start to fall on Monday. This might be my last snow for this winter (although as I write this, I am hearing about chances for a wintry mix in portions of the state later tonight). It began slowly, about mid-day, then picked up in intensity.

The snow starts to fall

The snow starts to fall (click photos to enlarge)

I did not have my camera on this trip so I grabbed my iPhone and walked down the hill toward the river below the house. This is the South Fork of the Holston River. One of three major branches of the Holston River, the South Fork flows over 100 miles through the hills and valleys of southwest Virginia before joining the North Fork near Kingsport, Tennessee. This serene waterway forms the back boundary of my parents’ property and provides a glimpse into the former wildness of these mountains amidst the current patchwork landscape of pastures and wood lots.

Looking downriver

A large tree leaning out over the river

I love the quiet and the starkness of a snow, especially along a river. Black and white images appeal to me in these settings, helping to define the world into its basic shapes and patterns.

Leaning tree along South Fork of Holston River

A closer view of that same tree

Geometric shapes in the trees above the river

Geometric shapes in the trees above the river

Snow also helps bring things into focus. A beaver-chewed tree trunk that might blend into the scene under normal conditions now jumps out of the landscape like a monument to the work of a master builder.

Tree cut by Beaver

Tree cut by Beaver

And the edges of a fallen leaf suddenly make your eyes notice the detail in their pattern.

Leaf in snow

A closer look reveals many beauties in the snow

Walking upriver beyond the riffles, the river gets quiet and silky. The snow is falling harder, a burst of larger flakes that are eaten by the river, but gather on the dark branches and the sleeve of my coat, causing me to pause and admire their delicate beauty.

Above the riffles

The river is smooth and draped in trees above the riffle

I stood quietly on the bank of the river…It was so peaceful watching the snow fall as the river rushed toward a destination far beyond this tranquil scene. The early naturalist and writer, John Burroughs, described what it is like to have a small river flowing near where you live…One can make a companion of it; he can walk with it and sit with it, or lounge on its banks, and feel that it is all his own. This snowy river gave me a glimpse of that feeling, and it reminded me of the powerful connection we all have to water and the landscapes that embrace it.


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