Snow Catchers

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.

  Jens Jensen


 Snow Catchers

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


blue-beech-snow-catcherOne 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.

redbud-winter-blueskyThe spreading trunks and branches of multi-stemmed Redbud (Cercis canadensis)  are exquisite snow catchers.



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.



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11 Responses to Snow Catchers

  1. SAndy K December 14, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    nice snow pics!

  2. Jason December 14, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

    Yes, I’m glad that there is some snow to insulate the ground. Hard to adjust to these temps after having such a warm autumn.

    • PatHill December 15, 2016 at 9:29 am #

      These temperatures woulf be hard to adjust to even if we had a cold autumn.

  3. Chris December 15, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

    We had a beautiful snow fall here in New Berlin, Wi, the snow was a few fluffy inches on everything and truly a winter wonderland. I just moved to a new house with 3 acres with tons of mature trees and am loving identifying them all. I want to make my own arboretum and your chapter about woodland gardens is coming in handy! I’m looking for new trees to add and I never heard of the blue beech before! Thanks for the great blog!

  4. Mary Alice Masonick December 15, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

    Beautiful photos and descriptions. I love snow and am glad we are having a “real” winter, so far.

  5. Suzanne Massion December 15, 2016 at 8:03 pm #

    I love your wintry images, Pat. I keep thinking of paintings to be. Jens Jensen’s siftings read like pure poetry, perfect with your snowy scenes.

  6. Trish Beckjord December 16, 2016 at 7:06 pm #

    A lovely entry Pat, both from you and Jens Jensen. I too love winter for the very features you point out. Another tree I just love in the snow is my Alternate-leaf Dogwood! I wish I could insert my pictures after our first snowfall!

    Thanks for this!

  7. Pat Glen December 17, 2016 at 3:32 pm #

    Pat, the photos of Burnidge are stunning…I loved skiing there. Am sending you a photo of one of the Schoolhouse at The Clearing…it’s very close by. I wish I could insert it, but will send it separately. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

  8. Steven Olderr December 21, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    Thanks Pat. Loved the Jens Jensen quote. It was so poetic it inspired my own feeble effort, liberally copped from Jensen:

    DeKalb Winter

    The wind whips across the prairie,
    Shaking a silvered cottonwood,
    Beneath a heatless sun.

    Dead grass bends under hoarfrost,
    And snow blankets a sleeping field,
    That awaits the seeds of spring.

    The green warmth of summer
    Is but a dream,
    Of resurrected life.

    ~December, 2016

    A little darker perhaps, but I was thinking of my time in DeKalb when the woman I later married was back in Chicago. Actually, I like the winter.

    • PatHill December 21, 2016 at 9:15 pm #

      That’s beautiful, Steven. May I use it in another winter blog? Full credit to you, of course.

  9. Marianne Nelson December 22, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

    I loved the site of my black-eyed susans covered with snow. It’s why I could never cut them down in the fall!

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