During winter the winds come in crisp and invigorating from across the prairies. At this season of the year the landscape assumes a dreary look to many who do not understand. But to others, when the gray arms of the cottonwood are illuminated by the January sun and silhouetted against the blue sky, when sleeping buds are covered with frost sparkling in the winter sun, when the dormant life of millions of flowers is covered with a blanket of snow, when rich plowed fields await the seed that is to feed the millions, and gray and lavender clouds beckon you over the prairies, the landscape sings a song of rich tonal beauty, a great prelude to dawn, a reminder before the resurrection of life.
Snow transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. Dull landscapes turn into breathtaking splendors and, trite though it sounds, into a winter wonderland.
The magnificent bare bones of our large old trees outlined against the cold winter sky dominate the Midwest landscape now. Backlit by the pale, slanting winter light, they make long, chalky blue shadows on the snow, adding more pattern. The most notable are the wide spreading, brawny Bur and White Oak (Quercus alba and Q. macrocarpa) in oak openings throughout the countryside.
White Oak in Burnidge Forest Preserve in Elgin
One of the most striking trees for winter effect is the Blue Beech (Carpinus caroliniana), mentioned in October for its colorful fall foliage. Its smooth, slate blue, fluted trunk and branches look like flexed muscles, giving rise to its other common name—Musclewood. It’s even more dramatic when grown on multi-trunks. It makes a splendid specimen or focal point in a landscape. The horizontal fence is also a snow-catcher.
Frozen pond at Burnidge Forest Preserve with snow-covered trees in background.
Black Haw (Viburnum prunefolium) resembles the Hawthorn, Jens Jensen’s signature tree. Its horizontal branches catch the falling snow, as does the trellis.
The snow piles high on the patio furniture and copper fountain.
Seed heads of Purple Coneflower (Rudbeckia purpurea) amongst long blue shadows on the snow.
It looks like we’re in for some -0 weather–let us be grateful for the blanket of snow that is not only beautiful, but protects our plants and wildlife.