The waning minutes of the winter solstice are ticking away, marking the end of the shortest day of the year. I’m not sure why, but the days have seemed shorter than normal for this time of year for the last month. Maybe it is because winter conditions arrived early this fall, and never really relented very much. While winter is just now officially beginning, it is exciting to know that the sun will start hanging around a little more each day.
Over the past week I sought to capture a few images that are ordinary for a Montana winter, but might look unique to folks who haven’t wintered this far north. Starting with a rather obvious and expected occurrence that shouldn’t surprise too many people is a frozen reservoir. Taken along Highway 12 between White Sulphur Springs and Martinsdale, the Martinsdale Reservoir has already formed a thick cap of ice. Soon there will be a number of ice fishing huts scattered across the frozen sheet. I’ve never tried my hand at ice fishing, and haven’t felt compelled to do so. There is something about sitting or standing on ice for hours without any major physical activity that just sounds down right cold to me! Besides, until a fish is found that tastes like beef, I prefer not to eat the stuff.
Artemisia is the genus of several groups of plants, including sagebrush. Many people would contend that sagebrush is unattractive and a nuisance in range and pasture environments. I am not going to get into a discussion of the pros and cons of sagebrush, but will say that I appreciate most sages in moderation. An oft overlooked benefit of sagebrush, particularly in areas prone to high winds, is that the leeward side of sagebrush will catch the snow. Those small drifts will commonly freeze in place and then slowly melt during warmer weather, allowing the moisture to soak into the soil.
The final winter image is lovely portrait of a Western Conifer Seed Bug. As their name implies, these little critters enjoy feasting on pine seeds. However, they don’t much appreciate winter weather, so as autumn plays out, the Conifer Seed Bug seeks out a warm place to overwinter. They frequently find their way into homes, either crawling through small openings around doors and windows, or hitch-hiking on people and pets to get a free ride inside. They are perfectly harmless to people, but can cause alarm in a couple distinct ways. First, they don’t seem to be great fliers. Well, that may not be truly accurate…I think they can fly pretty well, they just don’t land very gracefully. It is pretty normal to hear a short rush of wing beats, followed by a crash landing into a wall, window, or people. They don’t bite or sting, but even without presenting that kind of risk, most people don’t appreciate them indoors and will often either kill them or try to relocate them outside. Both of these solutions will often result in the Conifer Seed Bug releasing a chemical cocktail that has a rather unpleasant odor. Even using a triple-folded paper towel to pick up the bug will not protect a person from ending up with stinky fingers. The best solution I’ve found is to encourage them to walk onto a hand or other object, then carry them outside and release them. The Western Conifer Seed Bug pictured below was a spectator as I washed dishes in the kitchen this evening, so afterwards I invited him into my office for a quick photo shoot on a house plant. It was his decision to pose upside-down!
In the Book of Job we can read about God’s hand in our winter weather, “From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds of the north. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen. Also with moisture He saturates the thick clouds; He scatters His bright clouds. And they swirl about, being turned by His guidance, that they may do whatever He commands them on the face of the whole earth.” Job 37:9-12
My schedule yesterday was pretty full, beginning with an early morning conference call which I decided to take in the field near my first customer call that would follow. With a cup of coffee in hand, I enjoyed a front row seat to a skirmish in the sky. Heavy clouds seemed intent on restraining the rising sun, working hard to keep it held below the horizon of the Little Belt Mountains. The ensuing battle fired an array of colors across the morning sky, until the sun rose victorious and burned away the defeated clouds. (You will find the image to be much nicer if you click on it to open a larger view!)
The sky is but a canvas for the hand of the Master Creator. The words of poet William Donne encourage us to consider that “golden morning glow” and focus our gaze upon the hilltops as the sunrise bids us welcome to our eternal home beyond the skies:
I’m Looking for the Sunrise
I’m not looking for the sunset
as the swift years come and go;
I am looking for the sunrise and
the golden morning glow.
I’m not going down, but upward
and the path is never dim,
for the day proves ever brighter
as I journey on with Him.
So my eyes are on the hilltops,
waiting for the sun to rise,
Waiting for my invitation
to my home beyond the skies.
Its been a little chilly up here lately, 25-below zero Fahrenheit as I am writing up this post. Our high temperature today reached a balmy 13-below, so with weather that nice, I just had to find something to photograph! The cold weather created conditions ripe for the formation of sundogs, which result from refracted light hitting plate-shaped, hexagonal ice crystals that are sometimes called diamond dust. While the sundogs themselves were pretty evident, the overall phenomenon was not as pronounced as is sometimes the case. Still, it was neat to see, and I’m glad to have a few images to share.
Using a different camera and lens combination, the following images show a larger version of each sundog.