Nature – Snow is to Live With

In the world of birds and beasts, snow is not a nuisance, but welcome as the rain and the sun. It is an insulator, and a warm shelter for survival.

Birds and beasts feature some clever devices to keep on top of the snow. Some species of grouse have little horny scutes, or comblike points, that spread out on either side of the toes and act as snow rafts. The ptarmigan grows feathers on his feet. The Canadian lynx has enormous paws, more than twice as big as those of his cousin, the bobcat. Snowshoe hares sport powerful hind legs with large wide furry feet, with toes spreading out like snowshoes.

Creatures less specialized for snow than the lynx and ptarmigan have been forced to make use of one of the outstanding physical properties of snow—its poor conductivity of heat. Mice, several species of birds, porcupines and shrews go down under the snow, where the white crystals hold their body heat like a mountain of insulation.

Pheasants and quail often flutter their wings and wedge themselves into a snow pocket; grouse fly headfirst into a snowbank for the night. The danger is crusting, and birds are sometimes iced under the snow. The crust must thaw within a day and a half, or they may never get out.

Creatures unspecialized for dealing with snow cope with it in unique ways. Deer and moose, cottontails and squirrels beat down trails for easier travel, as deliberately as one shovels a walk. During snowstorms, herds of deer have been heard tramping down newly fallen snow, snapping twigs and limbs to keep their yard open to pantries of grasses and mosses they need to keep alive.

Most fascinating is the development of underground cities by wintering animals. Under the snow are millions of rooms, tunnels and roadways—drilled, packed, dug, and bitten by wintering animals, tunneled and carved with a nose or hot breath until a cross section of a week-old snowstorm looks like Swiss cheese.

The pikas or conies, relatives of rabbits, with short ears and no tails to get cold, live their daily lives six feet under the snow. They make sitting rooms, zigzag halls and corridors leading to barns of sweet grasses that have been stored during the summer months.

Mice, shrews, weasels and otters all carve roads and rooms beneath the snow. The star-nosed mole makes cloverleaves and roller coasters, turnpikes and apartments and he does it faster than anything.

Most wild animals and dogs love the snow. Minks and weasels play in it, leaping like darning needles in and out, diving into the snow like water.

Upon this white paper of winter is written marks of talon and claw, hoof and nose. To the birds and beasts, snow is as much a part of this world as the night.

Our Amazing World of Nature, Its Marvels and Mysteries, Jean George, ©1969, 210–212.

“No finite mind can fully comprehend the existence, the power, the wisdom, or the works of the Infinite One. Says the sacred writer: ‘Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.’ Job 11:7–9.” Christian Education, 196