Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Little Snow, Big Snow"

This picture of snow is not taken by me. It was taken by a snow researcher with an electron microscope. It is not what we think of as a snow flake. There are snowflakes, typically the larger ones that fall during warmer temperatures, that actually look like what we think of when we think of snow flakes. I'm pretty sure, though that this is what snow looks like when we are getting the "little snow, big snow" sort of snow.

Right now, I am watching the teeny, tiniest snowflakes fall out my dining room window. My ancestors were big journal keepers. Being English, one thing they liked to talk about in their journals was the weather. So a lot of the family stores tend to center around the weather and can be reinforced with these journals. Take the entry made over 150 years by my dad's grandfather, "March 23, ...snow is three feet deep on the flat. It is snowing again today..."

My great grandfather, AO, was worrying about planting early potatoes, many times planted here on Good Friday. I am assuming the March 23rd date to be coming up on that day for him. Here in present day central Wisconsin, it hit 55 degrees Fahrenheit here yesterday, on January 11. I have to wonder what AO would have thought about that!

AO's wife, Sarah, carried a rifle with her everywhere she went. Rumor has it she even took it to the outhouse with her, reportedly to shoot at crows, reading material like a Sear and Roebuck catalogue no doubt being put to a different task. Fact is though, they settled in central Wisconsin just a couple years or so after the land treaty with Chief Oshkosh was signed clearing the last of the Menominee Indians from this area. Most likely they still saw some migrating Indians passing through to summer hunting grounds, as this is an area with lots of these trails, one being what is now State Highway 22 which runs very near their homestead.

For all that, the house in which I now live has a "hidey hole" in the floor under the dining room carpet, where a whole family could hide from these "savages".

My forebears no doubt had opportunities to bore the natives with talk about the weather. However, the natives being connected to the climate more than we are today, could hold up their own in the limited way conversation can happen between non-fluent speakers. In my mind's eye, I can see the Indian standing in the dooryard with a blanket draped across his shoulders grunting out "little snow, big snow; big snow little snow," as the first tiny snowflakes hit his brow.

Everyone would nod and smile, and then maybe AO would respond with something like, "It sure is cold today." And again everyone would nod and smile. Accordingly, no one got shot or there would be family stories about that as well. What does come down is that the Indians said this, "little snow, big snow; big snow little snow."

What we are only now coming to understand is snowfall accumulation tends to be larger when the temperature and humidity are right for it; and those condition favor snowflakes of a smaller size. The natives, keen observers which they were, were passing along important meteorological information in those simple halting words and AO's response that it sure was cold seemed to indicate understanding on his part.

I'm not sure he wasn't just polite and talking about the weather. Since moving back to central Wisconsin, I have been keeping track. When we get "little snow", we get more than four inches. Big flakes? Less.

Right now those flakes are so fine and tiny, I'm thinking six inches. With only 6.3" this winter from an average of around 21" at this point, I have to say, "Let it snow!"

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