Friday, December 31, 2010

Wind Directions and the Big Melt

New Year's Eve, and the snow is melting fast, with intermittent rain to help. It's nearly 7 degrees out! Roadsides have transformed from pristine white to dirty mud in 24 hours. Stripes of snow have been sliding off the steep-pitched steel roof with a great 'whooosh' like the rumbling of nearby thunder, smashing into the driveway leaving a pile of very heavy white stuff.

Besides the big messy very unwelcome thaw, what I notice is the changing wind direction. Over the past month we've had a lot of winds out of the north or northwest. The arctic air masses have been winning the mid-latitude battle, keeping it cold, and winds off Georgian Bay have brought the snow streamers. But for a couple of days, a large warm air mass moving north out of the Gulf of Mexico has been winning. And with it come strong south winds pushing that warmer air north.

I notice the winds because on my daily walks with the dog we walk around a loop of road, so no matter what direction the wind is coming from, at some point we're walking into it. And it's usually cold!

Sometime tomorrow night the warm spell will end, as the cold air mass pushes down across southern Ontario, and everyone will notice the sudden big drop in temperature. But what I will notice is the shift in wind direction, from south to west or northwest, bringing that colder weather, and hopefully some more snow.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Trails are Groomed; Ski Hills are Open

Winter has settled down with no more storms, but a very white world. The temperature continues to hover around -10. The cross-country ski trails are groomed and ready for use. There are two beautiful areas of ski trails near the valley, the Glenelg and Kolapore trails, featuring many more kilometres of trail than you can probably ever ski, mostly through beautiful rolling hardwood bush, making for wonderful skiing.

The snowmobile trail is in business too. The whine of distant snowmobiles sounds in many corners, but there is one major long distance trail network to be followed, taking you into the backwoods where otherwise humans would never pass. These are the Klondyke trails (not to be confused with the Klondike trails in the Yukon!).

At the same time the downhill ski hills are open for business, and the winter weekenders have started to arrive. Some of them will stay for the entire two-week school holiday, and then be back every weekend until March Break. The many people who come to ski in the valley in the winter mean that winter is the second busiest season to summer around here. More traffic, more business in local stores, more lights on in homes at night. And a number of jobs important for locals running the lifts and lodges.

If you're prepared, and enjoy being active outdoors, winter is a great time in the valley! As soon as Christmas is over, I look forward to getting out on the trails!

Stopped by the church today to donate a little to support their Christmas hamper program - they delivered hampers to 58 families between here and Owen Sound yesterday.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Don't Believe It - More Snow!

Woke this morning to yet another 25 cm. of snow, light powdery fluff that covered everything with a fresh blanket of snow flakes. This time I waited for Al to come by with his big tractor and blow out the drive. Takes me most of an hour; takes him all of 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, the dog loves it. She nearly disappears now walking through the nearly 3 feet of light powder, and constantly pushes her face in the snow in search of mice or other smells. She likes nothing more than to run through the deep snow, bounding heavily from one spot to another.
Snow is piled on the car, on the railings, on the roof, and caught in all the branches of the trees, draping the pine and spruce trees heavily. Driveways of the skiers are covered 2 feet deep; they'll face a lot of shovelling if they arrive for weekend skiing. And all the rest of the world around us is a winter wonderland.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


It's been snowing for three days now, and it's just starting to abate. First there was the passing storm on Sunday which snowed everyone in completely by itself, but then on Monday the winds switched to the north and the lake effect snow started, piling on more white stuff. On Monday it mostly missed us, though it still snowed nearly another foot, but today it was headed straight in our direction and this morning snowed 8 inches in 3 hours.
At the Height of the Storm
Obviously you need to be prepared for a storm like this, with snowblower and shovel ready, gas in the car, and enough provisions for several days if you can't get to a store. I think we were this time, and the snowblower has worked well - except that it just keeps snowing and piling up deeper and deeper.

We got a 'snow rake' on a 15 foot extendable pole, so I can pull the snow off the roof where it drifts 3 feet deep on the lee side. It works like a charm - well maybe it's a little awkward - and there's now a pile four feet deep on the deck, even though we keep shovelling a path from the doors.

Getting completely snowed in like this is a new experience for us - but I'm sure not for others around here. Though it causes lots of problems for many, and the local town is largely closed down, for many others it's a time to just stay home, keep on shovelling and enjoy the peace and quiet. The plows are concentrating on the main roads, and have only been down our road once or twice, while the snow is 2 feet deep on the level. But the storm is abating now as the streamers off Georgian Bay angle more to the east. By tomorrow it will be back to normal winter weather.
The Neighbour's Flag through the Trees

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In the Middle of the Storm

It's 5.30 p.m. on Sunday, and the dog and I have just been out for a walk in the storm. Probably 20 cm. has fallen already and it's still falling steadilly, though there's no sign of a snowplow anywhere near here. Presumably they're busy trying to keep the main roads open. But the dog loves it, romping through the deep snow in the ditch at the end of her long leash, and shoving her face in the snow to chase the sounds or the smells of mice.

Then I blew out the laneway, blasting 8 inches of soft snow in the air, so I won't be faced with an overwhelming depth tomorrow morning. With a gentle slope to our lane, we can't afford to let it get snowed in.

The cause of this snow is completely different than the lake effect snow some of southern Ontario got last week. This is a mid-latitude low pressure system passing across the continent, what meteorologists would call a cyclonic storm. It formed where the cold arctic air sweeping out of the north was meeting warmer air from the Gulf of Mexico over the western states.

As the whole package moves to the east, it spirals, so the first part of the storm actually has southern winds, blowing moist air northwards - you can see the pattern clearly on the radar. The moist air coming from the south rises over the cold air from the north, and starts crystalizing as snow; in a big system like this the snow can continue for hours. The southern part of this system usually brings rain, while the snow occurs further north, just as it did today.

All in all it's a great winter storm! The world will be white tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Snow Streamers in the Snowbelt!

For three days this week it snowed all around us, though we've only received 3-4" here. Snowfall in the snowbelt is obviously dependent on the vagaries of the streamers off Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. And this week, a major streamer has dumped huge amounts from Lake Huron toward London, while another streamer has snowed heavily from Collingwood southeast. Lucan, just north of London, has received nearly 5 feet of snow!! But we're in between, and it seems like just normal winter weather here.

This snow is 'lake-effect snow', caused by very cold arctic air masses moving over the relatively warmer waters of the Great Lakes. If the temperature difference between the higher, colder air mass and the air at the surface of the warmer water is big enough, atmospheric instability occurs. That is, the huge difference causes warm air (and water vapour) from the surface, to move up into the colder air, since nature doesn't like such imbalances, and always tries to even them out. (Warm air always rises, cooling as it does so, and cooler air always falls).

As the warmer air moves upward, it cools, starting the formation of snow crystals. When this air mass moves over land, it all cools, since there is no longer a source of relative warmth at the surface. The air also tends to 'pile up', as the friction of air moving over land compared to water slows down the air movement. Air has nowhere to go but up - cooling again, and adding more snow. The bigger the original temperature difference, and the longer the stretch of warm open water for the wind to blow over, the more snow that develops. Meteorologists look for a difference of at least 13 degrees celsius between the warmer and colder air, and a fetch of 100 or more km. over open water.

Such arctic air masses always tend to blow toward the south-east over southern Ontario, and then dump their heavy load of snow in a long band or streamer over land exactly as it did over Lake Huron toward London and Georgian Bay from Collingwood south-east this week. If you're in the path of a streamer, you may get excessively heavy snowfall, while areas just a few miles out of the path only get normal snowfall. Such snowfall is also more likely early in the winter, in November-December, because the temperature of the Great Lakes water hasn't cooled down much yet, so the atmospheric temperature difference is still high.

Southern Ontario, southeast of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, (along with Buffalo and parts of New York State, east of Lake Erie) are the classic examples of 'snowbelts' in the world. Lake effect snow tends to be light and fluffy, so it easily blows around once it's on the ground, giving us white-outs and snowsqualls too.

Certainly everything here is white now, covered in a foot or more of powder snow, and with the temperature staying near -10, the snow stays light and fluffy. And it's piling up on the leeward side of our house, waiting for me to shovel it. Next time we may be in the path of the streamer, but today is bright and sunny, with a dazzling blue sky, and for now I don't have to shovel!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Old Stone Fencerows

Among the most remarkable things in the rural landscape of the Beaver Valley are the old stone fencerows. Created by the pioneers when originally clearing the land for homesteads, these are permanent reminders of their enormous effort. They created a landscape of small fields bordered by trees, and they become startlingly visible in November - December.

I am absolutely amazed by the size of the rocks they moved, even the smaller ones. I've seen pictures of how this was done, using a team of horses, a huge tripod of poles, and a block and tackle for the large ones - a far cry from the easy stone picking we still do today. Three rocks in our own fencerow are half the size of a small car! And most of the rocks would be far larger than even two men working together could move.

Almost more amazing are the built-up stone walls, made of smaller rocks that could be packed into a solid structure. These form straight lines through the woods, or down the side of a lane, and some of them are still standing 150 years later.

I see these old fencerows almost everywhere I turn, though much moreso on top of the Niagara Escarpment where it is stonier, than in the actual valley, which has clay soil at the surface. They are most remarkable to me where they mark an old homestead now otherwise gone.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Winter Has Come to the Valley

Winter has arrived in the valley. A 'Storm Warning' and 'Snowsquall Warning' the weather forecast said, and the snow arrived, about 6 inches of it, turning the ground white, while the strong wind howled around the cabin.

The Valley - Talisman Ski Resort lower left.

Some people retreat from winter, or head south, but we enjoy it. Winter walks, snowshoeing, and skiing all let you get outside. Others jump on their snowmobiles at the earliest opportunity, and organized, clearly marked snowmobile trails run for miles through the countryside.

The Valley - Cliffs of Old Baldy upper right

Skiing is important to the valley, with two downhill ski clubs bringing dozens of seasonal and full-time jobs. More than a few local farmers have supplemented their income with winter work on the ski hills while snow closes down work on the farm. The ski hills will soon turn on their snowmaking, once the temperature stays below freezing, and soon the skiers will be back.

The countryside is wrapped in its first blanket of white for the year, covering the fields, the fencerows and the woodlots. We have the snowshoes and snowblower ready, and in the meantime, just hunker down and prepare for indoor hobbies, quilting and writing, and over the next few weeks several Christmas dinners.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Apple-Stashing Squirrels and Milkweed Seeds

Lots of little things happen as the seasons pass, and November is no exception. The red squirrels have been busy in the old apple trees along the fencerow, stashing apples in the crotches of the branches, presumably to keep them high and dry for later. Who knows if they actually return and eat them!

Elsewhere I've seen squirrels do the same thing with mushrooms - creating a mushroom tree, decorated with white mushrooms drying in the open air.

At the same time, November is a major time of seed dispersal. Returning from a walk you (and the dog) are decorated with burrs of several different kinds; even the tiny goldenrod seeds stick to your clothes briefly to get carried away from the parent plant.
But milkweed seeds are the most obvious, bursting out of the cocoons that have held them, and blowing away in the wind. Each small round brown seed is held aloft for awhile by a white parachute of silk. .

Mysteriously, I've noticed that different patches of milkweed seem to disperse their seeds at different times, even though all the plants in any one patch release their seeds at the same time. A patch near our garage was exploding in tiny white parachutes in September, but a patch 100 yards away just released its seeds now.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Brilliant November Days!

A week of brilliant, blue-sky, warm days in November, a big bonus at this time of year, especially after last week's snow! Trees are standing stark against the sky, their leaves gone, trunks and branches black and grey against the blue, the ridges and patterns of the bark more obvious. The grass, weeds and shrubs are 40 shades of brown.

November is an in-between month for many, too cold to be comfortable outside, but no snow for winter sports yet. But for others it is a great time to be outside - the soybean harvest is just being finished, wild turkeys in big groups are picking up spilled beans in the fields (we saw probably 150 today). Hunting season is here, a great week outdoors for many - venison in the freezer for winter. And if you didn't get those October chores done, a week like this lets you catch up before snow flies.

I like November because you can see so well through the trees. Buildings hidden all summer show up on the slopes of the valley, among the forest. Rock formations, the rocks of the Niagara Escarpment, are more visible. Old stone fencerows emerge from the undergrowth reminding you of the folks who cleared this land 150 years ago. The landscape is laid bare so to speak, visible to all for awhile until snow flies.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The First Snow of Winter

The first real snow of winter, turning the world white. A wet snow, clinging to trees and twigs and grass, but melting on contact with the driveway or the boulders in the old fencerow.
It's notoriously hard to take a picture that captures the bright whiteness of a snowy day. By 4 p.m. at this time of year the sky is already starting to darken, and the bright whiteness is gone. But snow on the twigs give some sense of the beauty. Even the hawthorn meadow looks pretty in this weather.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tamaracks are Gold

About 2 or 3 weeks after all the maples, ash and oaks have turned colour and then lost their leaves, the tamarack turn their needles to gold, a last sign of summer before winter snow arrives.

Tamarack are the only coniferous trees here that lose their needles every fall. Growing in a small bunch, the needles turn yellow-gold and fall off, leaving the tree as stark as deciduous trees over the winter. I've always seen this as a last burst of the glory of summer, and I've planted a small patch of tamarack at the back of our own property, just to look at at this time of year.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October Chores

Late October is the time to get ready for winter. In 2008, winter arrived with a blizzard leaving behind a heavy snowfall on Nov. 1st, and never left. So there's a long list of things to be done to be ready.

We usually visit one of the apple orchards while the tastiest varieties of apples are still available (honey crisps), and also get at least one pumpkin to sit on the porch for Hallowe'en.

The garage needs to be tidied so we can get the outdoor furniture, various pots and garden tools, and perhaps even a car inside for the winter. Snowtires have to be installed. The lawn needs to be mowed one last time, leaves raked and mulched, and this year we have wood chips to spread. Then the lawnmower goes off to have the snowblower attached and serviced, and the mowing deck removed.

The garden gets put to bed, but inevitably we stop at nurseries when travelling, and pick up a few bargains in the late fall sales - 75% off yesterday! But of course those plants need to be planted or at least sunk to protect them over the winter.

The first chickadee at the feeder.

Bird feeders need to be put up, and a new place to buy birdseed found. Tree guards get placed on small saplings the deer might find tasty. And if you're lucky you have a few sunny warm days before October ends to get all this done.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Thanksgiving has passed in a blurr, with guests, walks in the woods, art tours, and turkey dinner! This year we were blessed with amazing weather - sunny and warm all Thanksgiving weekend, and it made for great times outdoors. We hiked Old Baldy on Saturday, with hundreds of others, and the view from the cliffs was amazing.

There are also two nearby art tours. On Saturday we headed for Clarksburg and the art galleries, part of the 'tour of the arts'. The Loft Galley in particular had spectacular large canvasses, paintings of the Niagara Escarpment in all seasons. On the way home we stopped at one of the apple farms to check out the pies and pumpkins.

Sunday we headed west to the village of Walter's Falls and visited several studios or workshops on the 'Escarpment Studio Tour'. We enjoy seeing the studios and homes of the artists as much as the art itself, and on this tour there are two woodcarving workshops with amazing inlaid bowls, bird decoys and wooden toys.

Then Thanksgiving is over, and it's on to the late October chores.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It's Garlic Time

Early October, and it's time to plant the garlic.

For 20 years we've been growing several varieties of garlic, just enough to give us a garlic supply, and provide seed for next year's crop. Garlic is usually planted in September/October, and harvested in July or early August, so garlic planting is another event in the fall season.

This year we stopped in the general store in Kimberly and found 14 varieties of garlic for sale! Nothing would do but we bought one of each for seed, and now of course, the undergardener needs to prepare a big new bed in the garden for the expanded garlic patch.

This meant double-digging, adding compost and manure, and building up the bed with a healthy layer of new topsoil - all in all a couple of hard day's work! But it's ready now for the head gardener to plant and label all her 21 varieties. And beautiful sunny warm days to do it in.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seasons in the Valley

A forest of incredible fall colours, slopes falling away to the sparkling river below the cliffs, vultures soaring in the thermals overhead, the Beaver Valley is a beautiful place. A long narrow geological notch in the Niagara Escarpment south of Georgian Bay, the valley starts in the south with waterfalls dropping over the dolomite, and extends to the north widening out into apple orchard country.

For 20 years I've explored the valley, bringing students on field courses, walking the forests, canoeing the river, and enjoying the trails. This is a beautiful, tall straight butternut in one of the many woodlots I know. There is nothing like getting students out to do field projects to introduce you to the landscape.
At the moment it is fall, and the leaves are well into turning colour, though probably not at their peak yet. The ashes turn a range of yellow, deep reds, purples and almost brown, but it's the maples that turn bright red and orange. The valley slopes are carpeted with colour, here and there the dark green of spruce, pine and cedar providing contrast with the deciduous colours. As in this picture though, you see the colours better up close. It's amazing that this most beautiful time of year in the valley is such a brief, ephemeral time.

Winter brings it's own special beauty. Here winters are real winters, with deep snow that lasts for several months, making snowshoes actually useful. And of course both downhill and cross-country skiing are popular. The snowbelt winds bring moisture off Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, dumping heavy fluffy snowfalls that turn the world white. Every branch and twig on the trees is decorated with white icing; the air is crisp and the sounds are muffled except for the moan of the wind. If you're prepared for it, winter is great.
The passing of the seasons provides an endless tableau of change around you. This blog will provide a tiny window on to the 'seasons in the valley'.