Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Magical Frost

The beauty of winter in the Dakotas continues to amaze and inspire me. We woke Monday morning to a dazzling hoarfrost. Coated in sparkling ice crystals, our little town sparkled like a magical winter wonderland.
According to Wikipedia,"hoarfrost (also called radiation frost or hoarfrost) refers to the white ice crystals, loosely deposited on the ground or exposed objects, that form on cold clear nights when heat losses into the open skies cause objects to become colder than the surrounding air."
Despite the clear meteorological explanation for the phenomenon, I can't help but imagine things differently. As I drove Matthew to school, we were dazzled by the beauty. We imagined a lovely wintertime fairy, fluttering from tree to tree, shrub to shrub, gently flicking her magic wand, creating the marvel we saw before us. No branch or bush was left untouched, and each creation was more beautiful than the last.

A little later, Wesley spent an hour or so exploring the outdoors, camera in hand, capturing the beauty of the morning. A bunny watched him with interest as he snapped her picture. He took these photos (and dozens more) just outside town.

Winter in the Dakotas can also be harsh and treacherous. Dangerously low wind chills and hazardous road conditions unfortunately result in many accidents and injuries during our long winter season. Countless broken bones result from slippery streets and sidewalks, and many homes face days without phone or electricity during blizzards and ice storms.

Ranchers work tirelessly to protect their herds from the elements. It is a constant task to keep water tanks from freezing, feed bunks full, and fences in place as winter snow drifts accumulate. In some places, the tall drifts are so hard packed that the cattle can walk right over the fence.

For most ranchers, it's also calving season! Gayla arrived at work a little late on Thursday morning... commenting that she had a "delivery" in the night. In the middle of the night, her husband Bob left the house to check their herd. Gayla knew there was a problem when she heard his pick-up return, but he left it running in the driveway. She quickly dressed and went out to help him. A little later, she helped him deliver a precious set of twin calves, and is happy to report that the babies are doing well.

Fortunately, Mother Nature graciously grants us frequent gifts to make up for the winter chill. Last week, I was treated to a glorious sunrise. This week, a dazzling hoarfrost. I can't wait to discover unexpected beauty in the weeks ahead. And, once we get through March, spring will be right around the corner!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Dakota Sunrise

Good Morning.

Just before 7 am yesterday, I left the house in a rush. Extra strong coffee in my extra large mug, frazzled and hurried, too many things to do and not enough time to do them.

As I rounded a corner on our gravel road, I came face to face with a stunning winter scene. The gentle pink glow of early sunrise peeked through the clouds, just a hint of the the beauty to come.

At first, I had to fight the impulse to plow ahead with the plan for my morning... I had places to go and things to do!

But, calm prevailed. I stopped driving, and stepped out into the crisp, silent winter morning to take a picture. I sipped my coffee, warming my bare hands on the hot mug. I watched as the pink glow became soft orange.

Drawn into the beauty, I drove a little further to find a better vantage point for my pictures. I watched with wonder, as the sun rose above the snowy horizon, its rays illuminating the farms and pastures on the horizon. The orange glow intensified, and a fiery ball appeared for just a minute.

It happened too quickly. Before I knew it, the beautiful sunrise was over, and the scene became ordinary again. A pale yellow glow remained, and the sun was hidden behind the thick clouds.
I considered the difference between a sunrise and a sunset. A sunrise holds the promise of things to come. Like the first page of a new book, or the first stitch in a quilt, a sunrise is full of delight and hidden potential. A new beginning... a fresh start... a time of rebirth.

The sunrise reminded me of how fleeting some experiences can be. Some of the most precious gifts in life are very transient, and we don't always get a second chance to seize the moment. Each day, many blessings,opportunities and choices are available to us, but it is our choice whether we embrace or ignore them.

I was reminded of a happy childhood memory. My dad, a notorious "morning person", always rose long before dawn. When we made our occasional family shopping trip from Milk River, Alberta to Great Falls, Montana, he insisted we get an early start. This meant leaving in the dark. I'd start the trip grumpy, tired, cold, and hungry, and usually sleep the first hour or so. But, Dad always woke me up so I could watch the sunrise over the Sweetgrass Mountains. We'd watch in silence as we drove along, enjoying the beautiful sight.

Then, we'd stop in Conrad, Montana, at a bustling cafe for breakfast. I'd savor every bite of a homemade caramel roll, still warm from the oven, and a tall glass of icy cold milk. The place would be packed with farmers, ranchers, and the early "coffee crowd". I was always amazed at how many people were up and around at that early hour. Dad would remind me that many of the people had probably put in a few hours of work by that time, and jokingly say "for some of them, the day's half over by now".

I spent a few minutes reflecting and remembering, before I put the SUV in gear, and drove toward town. I noticed with surprise that I wasn't nearly as late as I thought I would be.
My sunrise experience had a lasting effect. I felt calm and collected the entire day, and accomplished everything on my "to do list" and more.