Archive for February, 2014


snow in the field


At this point in the winter, it is not uncommon to hear people bemoaning the cold. Especially considering the relative ease, with which the previous three winters have passed, this winter has felt particularly harsh, in the Northeast. Still, there is something that rubs me the wrong way, each time I hear somebody say, “I wish it were summer already.” Sure, it is cold, it is difficult to drive, cabin fever is catching up with people… But, can we at least agree that, in all its hardship, winter is very important.


The first way in which snow plays a vital role is in decomposition of leaf matter. In spring all the nutrients that have been stored in a plant travel from the root systems to the branches, where buds are formed and open into new leaves and reproductive organs, such as flowers. Through the summer, the plant invests its nutrients in the maintenance of this structure, and in the fall, the leaves fall. Even in a coniferous forest, trees will loose needles, as they are not needed or cannot be maintained through photosynthesis. Snow fall plays a vital role in the cycle, as it helps to break the leaf matter down into basic compounds, where it can travel through the soil and back to the roots. It does this by creating a thermal layer, between the ground and itself. The heat is trapped in this zone, and creates the conditions necessary for decomposition.

Furthermore, as the snow melts in spring, and the ground starts to thaw, the force of moving water erodes downward, aerating the soil, and bringing the now decomposed nutrient matter back to the roots, where it can be used to create new leaves. Thus, the snow, which we so easily associate with the stillness of winter, is essential in bringing for the vibrancy of life, we so value in spring and summer.


Furthermore, snow pack and the spring thaw, are absolutely vital, for maintaining trout habitat in streams and rivers. As the snow melts, and floods the rivers in spring, it washes out leaf litter and detritus from the previous year. When this does not occur, the decomposition process contributes to the acidity of the water. Trout are only tolerant of a moderate PH, and acidity is claimed to be a factor in the declining Eastern Brook Trout populations.


Furthermore, as with trees, the water from snow melt brings trout nutrients and helps to oxygenate the water. It furthermore, helps to regulate the temperature of the water. Trout are particularly intolerant of water that is not cool, oxygenated and full of mineral content.


Thus we can see that, although ¬†we may struggle through personal hardship in winter, and although it appears cold and dead, a cold, snowy winter is absolutely essential. Like anyone else, I look forward to warmer days of hiking, and fishing… But to my estimation, I would rather have a long, cold winter, which brings at its end, vibrant life, than to be personally comfortable at the expense of forests I so love.



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