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Why do we need all that white stuff?

December 7, 2012
By Karen Wils , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Why white?

What is the importance of a thick, white, heavy, luxurious blanket of snow? Some Yoopers have always loved and anticipated the snow with skis, sleds, and snowshoes.

Others have dreaded the UP's winters with its shoveling and slippery roads.

Article Photos

Karen Wils photos

December snow decorates trees and bushes and promises the river a nice drink of water.

One that is true, in the past few years, the central UP has received less snow cover.

To some this is a welcomed trend. To others it is a reason for concern. Why do we need the white stuff anyway?

First I asked a few little forest creatures. The snowshoe hare is almost synonymous with the wintery woods of Upper Michigan. So many Christmas cards and magazine covers have had photos of this critter nestled in the snow beneath the balsam branches.

These big bunnies with the huge hind feet have turned white for winters in the North Country for hundreds of years. (Hares are brown in the summer.) Only their black jelly-bean-like eye is visible in their winter wonderland.

Well camouflaged, they're safe from the watchful owls, bobcats and lynx. It takes the hunter's keen-nosed hound to set the hidden hare scampering off through the snow draped forest.

If the forest is not draped by snow the white hare sticks out like a sore thumb on the brown ground. The predators now have the advantage. Michigan snowshoe hares are a species threatened by climate change.

The weasel and ermine are two other U.P. animals that turn white in the winter. They too will suffer from the lack of snow cover.

The forest creatures with the coats of white cry "Unfair! Unfair! We need snow for a healthy balance of nature!"

Next I asked the tender shoots and plants on the woodland floor. The wild orchids that pop-out in the spring shaped like purple, pink and yellow Lady Slippers, asked for their security blanket of snow, too.

Many plants in the wild and in our gardens require the insulating snow for thermal protection from the freezing weather. (It's handy to keep our water lines from freezing up too.)

Lastly, I asked some people why they wanted some white stuff. For skiing, tubing, snowmobiling, for canceling school and for money from winter recreation were some of the answers I got.

But truly the biggest reason we really need snow is sitting outside just to the east of most of us - Little Bay de Noc. If seeing the low lake levels isn't enough to make most people pray for snow, I don't know what is. The moisture in the slowly melting snow is a timed released gift to the ground water and lake and stream levels of area.

The snow can be great fun, but it is going to make us slow down, take extra time, and maybe even stay closer to home on a few days. We have to dress for it, shovel it and scrape it off our cars.

Rain in the wintertime does not offer the thermal protection of the snow and it makes ice. Wearing snowshoes is much more fun than ice creepers.

So why do we need the white stuff? Because it's the life blood of a healthy Upper Michigan.


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.



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