My note was a simple one that I had to send to my friend who’d spent so many of his years here on this farm we call home. And, when I say I had to send it, I mean that I really had to send it – my spirit not allowing anything less.
The note was about the diamonds glistening across the snow-covered landscape on that winter day; them gleaming even in the light reflecting from the previous night’s full moon.
It had been an amazing couple of days and nights of sunrises, sunsets, moonrises and moonsets on this northern Driftless Area ridge. On the morning I sent the note, I stood in the farmyard’s chill watching the giant-pumpkin fool moon descend over our silo and barns to the west while the coming sunrise painted a red glow to the east. My only option was to face to the south and keep turning my head east-to-west and west-to-east to watch such a grand celestial show.
As I wrote the short note to my friend, I couldn’t imagine anything that could add to what I’d been seeing. But his response did just that.
“It brings out what I always described as blue shadows on the snow,” he replied.
That friend, Erling, had spent many of his 90-plus years of life considering about the blue snow and other wonders about this soil. His reply made me smile.
I smiled because I enjoyed his observations.
I smiled because I’d often noticed those blueish winter shadows on the snow.
I smiled because I didn’t know scientifically why the shadows appear to be blue on a sunny winter day, and that I don’t care to know. I’ll simply enjoy the blue hues.
I’ve written about the rural countryside in many ways over the past half-century, and at that moment it struck me that I’d never written about how shadows cast upon the snow have such a blue tint. I’d seen it my entire life and recall thinking about it often during my youth.
A sort of sadness washed over me that I’d left those blue shadows out of my thoughts for so many years. The reply and the blue-shadow memories it brought carried me on a back-and-forth ride on the chronological rollercoaster we ride through life.
I allowed the rollercoaster to reach the flat part of its track and slow for a bit before I reminded myself about the importance of not taking for granted those things so simple as blue shadows. Those shadows, after all, help show us the way to all that’s life around us – here at the farm the big willow’s grass-skirt dance in the chilled breeze, and the stillness of the catalpa trees’ bared branches; the cardinals and finches flitting with doves and blue jays among the farmyard’s bushes. They show us the way to the stiff winter movements of the cattle around the barnyard and barns; to the whitetail doe passing through the field across the road.
The blue shadows are the snow-covered soil’s connection with all that’s bright in the sky.
There was a time when I might have turned away from my reflective spirit and paid attention to my curious spirit to answer the question about why the shadows turn so blue when they’re made on snow. A strange thing has happened as I’ve aged, though; I’ve taken to not concern myself so much with the need for such an answer, instead simply enjoying the blue-shadow show.
I’m happy for that exchange of notes with my friend, because it’s going to give me a new way to look at life as I move through the countryside.
The blue shadows will be part of my days whether I’m at Arcadia or down at Trempealeau; whether I’m at York or at Pleasantville.
I’ll consider the renewal in my awareness about blue shadows to be a special gift from my friend whose legacy always will leave such wondrous blue shadows here on our farm. And, for the new year I’ll resolve to look at more blue shadows during my journeys whenever snow’s quilt covers our soil.
There being something new for my senses to take in has been a constant during the short decade since we arrived among these ridges and coulees. I have no doubt that watching how the blue shadows play among the diamonds reflecting from the snow covering those ridges and coulees will be exciting to see, now that I’ve been reminded to look for them.
— Scott Schultz