The Cracker Barrel: Hidden hope

The snowbound world is preparing to ... spring.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

I know what you’re thinking. Unless you’re a die-hard snowmobiler or a distant sunburned snowbird, you’re definitely sick of winter.

For the first month or two, the sparkle of sunlight on snowdrifts and the nerve-tingling brace of frigid air are delightful. Now, nearly a dozen weeks into the new year, the monochrome landscape and relentless rise of fuel bills provoke a sullen frown.

But there is hope.

Where, you ask?

Down under.


Hidden beneath the glacial crust of snow and ice, the forces of renewal are busy at work. How do I know? I once saw it.

Some years ago, on the north side of our house a few yards from the back door, the edge of a hill was exposed where we bulldozed away dirt to make room to stack firewood. Our intention was to cover the exposed cut with stones before winter came, which we didn’t manage to do until the year following, leaving the bulldozed edge covered only by ranks of firewood.

Come mid-March, when most of the winter’s firewood had been burned, a fascinating sight revealed itself. The hillside cut remained capped with a foot-deep mantle of snow. But below the snow, the top of the cut was carpeted with bent grasses and shrubs, rooted in a six-inch mat of loamy dirt.

Beneath the loam the soil was sandy, and below the sand lay gravel and rock. Since the mat of topsoil was laced together with roots, it jutted out in the air past the subsoil, exposing on its underside a snaggle of sheared-off root ends - each of which sported a tiny stalactite of ice.

The first time I noticed this strange sight, I assumed the icicles had formed from melting snow. Then, looking closer, I realized they were made of frozen sap, pumped from below by hidden, uncut roots, and leaking out through the lopped-off ends.

Craig Nagel color.jpg
Craig Nagel, columnist

With that insight, winter lost its power to depress. Granted, I thought, the surface of things still looks bleak. But below the frozen veneer a warm heart beats, the heart of Mother Earth, pumping moisture into the thirsty roots of grasses and shrubs and trees, energizing cells for the cycle of growth, preparing the stage for the coming of greenery.

The gashed hillside revealed what the snowbanks hid - an underground poised for revolution.

Down under, life stirs. Animals awaken from their hibernation. Root hairs flex, loosening up for the work that lies ahead. Frost crystals silently melt back into liquid. Dormancy gives way to renewed drive.


Cell by cell, root by root, creature by creature, the snowbound world prepares to ... spring.

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Opinion by Craig Nagel
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