Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Snow Melt - The Great Uncovering

Salt crystal causing snow to melt
Seventeen years ago, in another snowy city (Chicago), our neighbor's son secretly smoked cigarettes and flipped the butts out his bedroom window onto our snow-covered yard. Of course, come spring's snow melt I confronted our neighbor with the evidence. His son spent some time on his hands and knees, sprucing up our lawn.

This spring, across eastern Massachusetts, many surprising things are becoming uncovered by snow melt. Morning dog walkers have reported a bonus of found silver - all the coins dropped into the snow as people tried to reach snow-bound parking meters. Dogs also left evidence in the snow - ____ that dropped out of sight at the time, but now reappears, first frozen, then softening. Smells less than expected, yes, because all the bacteria were killed by the cold, but still visibly offensive.

Garbage has surfaced, too. Soda cans, scraps of paper waste, plus various and diverse car parts left behind from winter's accidents. Those with spring clean-up in their hearts are advised to set out on street, path and trail with plastic bags and glove clad hands.  

Dirty snow is closer to road
Since fresh snow was sparse after the spate of big storms, what remains has taken on a darker hue. The blackest snow starts at road's edge, then fades in intensity by six or seven feet out. The source of all this darkness is an aerosol of shredded tire particles, residue of oil leaks, asphalt dust, road sand and exhaust condensate. And this is why cities now refrain from slinging street snow into rivers and lakes and the ocean. It's better when snow melts in place to convey its residue into the storm sewers and thence to the waste water treatment facility before discharge to the Assabet River.   

Copied from
Speaking of black snow, the groundskeepers at Fenway Park came up with an ingenious means of removing snow from the subnivean field. Rather than shoveling, which could have damaged the grass, they scattered two plus tons of black sand atop the snow. The boost to absorbed heat sped the melting process. Boston's baseball season opens April 13th.  

Bicyclists are suffering. This winter most towns never bothered to spread sand or salt, but the grit generated from uncounted potholes clogs the margins of streets, there to abrade bicycle chains and sprockets until street sweeping cleans and/or spring rains washes it all away. And yes, streets suffered. When water seeps into crevices the subsequent freezing into ice under asphalt splits and shatters the pavement, leaving potholes aplenty.  

Bowl of deer vertabrae (click on photos to enlarge)
This winter was seriously severe on the non-hibernating mammals of Massachusetts. Opossums, raccoons, skunks and deer all suffered. Last spring's fawns, not quite yearlings, were at greatest risk of starvation, but this spring's fawns will be at risk if their mothers cannot find enough green browse to nurse successfully. Woods walking with an eye out for scavenging crows and vultures may lead you to a decomposing winter-killed deer carcass, perhaps in time to salvage a few bones. Advice here - repeated days-long soaks in water followed by soaks in hydrogen peroxide leaves bones smooth to the touch.  

Lastly, the seasonality of flowers has been condensed, so that rather than having snowdrop, crocus, daffodil and tulip blooms spread out over six to ten weeks, all will be in flower almost all at once. Think if it as a symphony of saturated color, blessed by spring rains.

 Yes, all the sibilant "s" sounds of this column were deliberate. Because it's s-s-s-s-spring.  

Skunk cabbage spathe melting snow
Bonus photo - skunk cabbage is an extremely early blooming plant in the wetlands of New England. What is visible in this photo is the spathe - special leaves that enclose the flower, called the spadix. The plant generates heat (hence the melted snow). The air space inside the spathe will be 15 to 30 degrees higher than the outside temperatures. Heat protects the flower from freezing at night. Furthermore, the combination of warmth and rotting-flesh odor attracts the flies that will be fooled into the task of fertilization. This photo taken April 3, 2015 at the wet area at the back of Carbone Park, across Concord Street from ArtSpace/Acme Theatre, Maynard, MA.

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