The First Snow

The first autumnal snowfalls in the forest are magical events. The low deciduous perennials have dropped their leaves and stand skeletal above a carpet of fading color, tiny green buds visible on the branch tips of many species. The annuals have dispersed their seeds and withered, fading back into the forest mulch. With the summer leaves gone, a person can see far through the trees now.

Colors are muted, from the washed-out overcast sky to the tall, dark conifers. The forest is quiet and still, and there’s a feeling of sleepiness. There’s still some isolated activity though; ravens croak above the trees, here and there a squirrel scolds as it continues to gather food, far away a woodpecker hammers a hollow snag.

I’m describing a first snowfall that I observed up at Hyas Lake several years ago. It was late October or early November and the forest was as described above. Very quiet and peaceful. I was there with a co-worker, doing some final work on the Deception Pass Trail. We’d accomplished our mission and were heading back.

We stopped at Upper Hyas Lake and walked out into the golden lakeshore grass. The air was very still and the overcast had turned fuzzy and white and was sinking gently toward us, shrouding the peaks. We stood quietly beside the calm lake and watched the descending cloud. Soon a few lazy white flakes of snow swirled by, and then a few more.

The forested slopes above the lake faded slowly into white obscurity as the snow cloud grew thicker. Soon we couldn’t even see the far side of the lake and were surrounded by the whispering hiss of falling snowflakes.

As the snow thickened, we returned to the trail and continued the hike out. Walking along the lake shore, the ground in open areas was turning white. The snow grew heavier and the silence was filled with the faint hissing of colliding, falling, swirling, flakes. Millions of tiny ice-stars chipping and breaking.

We left the lake and walked into the thick forest. It had been autumn when we hiked in and now it was winter as we hiked out, the forest floor and trail covered in a couple of inches of smooth, silky snow. We found several fresh sets of coyote tracks and some deer tracks along the trail. The skeletal brush, fallen logs, boulders and drooping tree boughs were etched in white. I had the feeling that a blanket was being gently placed over the sleeping forest; protecting it through its long winter sleep.

By the time we reached the trailhead, there were over three inches of snow on the ground and it was still coming down. I was reluctant to leave. The storm was so quiet and peaceful it could barely be called a storm, even with the snow falling an inch an hour.

We did have to leave though, so we loaded our gear, got into the truck, closed the doors, turned up the heat and set the defroster to high, turned on the wipers to sweep away the snow and bumped off down the white road, encased in vehicle technology and insulated from the primal storm outside.


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