City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

November 24, 2016

November 24th, Thanksgiving

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Mammals, Mule Deer, Plants, Sounds, Weather — canopus56 @ 7:19 pm

The White Tube of Thanksgiving

10:00 p.m. November 23rd, 2016. In the valley for the last few hours, there has been heavy rain mixed with snow from a major storm. I decide to go for late evening run through the snow, and as I arrive in the canyon, water treatment plant employees have just finished plowing the road. Even after removing one or two inches that has fallen, there is an inch of snow on the road in some places. Cloud bottoms are just below the canyon walls. One would expect the canyon to be dark, but it is not. Light from the city reflects off the clouds and falls on the snow, and the snow again reflects the light upward a second time. The road is well lit and because of the cloud cover, the temperature is not bitingly cold.

This makes for an extraordinary experience. As I jog the first mile, the trees are all frosted an inch thick with the freshly falling snow. The first mile is now the white tube. The diffuse reflected light gives the trees a silver glow, but the glow is magical and not ghostly. Tonight is a wonderful contrast to other seasons when the first mile is green tube (comment, Nov. 11th), a yellow tube (Oct. 11th), or a brown tube (Oct. 24th). The falling snow muffles all sounds of the City, and the only sounds are the crackle of the snow under my feet and the stream. The air is crisp and refreshing, and the snow falling through it strikes the face with a pleasing tingle. Running forward through the vertically falling flakes has a hypnotic quality.

The branches of trees that normally clear the road, now bend over it, straining under the weight of the snow. In a few places, the branches hang low enough that I can not go under them standing up. I pass a twenty foot tall Gambel’s oak near picnic site 5, and on the return down-canyon trip twenty minutes later, the tree is broken off about six feet from the ground, and now lays in the road. I take a minute to pull it to the shoulder. As I go out the canyon on Bonneville Drive, an even larger tree has fallen across the road, but it is too large for me to move.

2:00 p.m. November 24th, 2016. In the early morning, the sky cleared and this afternoon, the warming Sun is melting snow. It is Thanksgiving, and the parking lot is full, but not overflowing. Many families and couples walk in the canyon in Thanksgiving, either before sitting down for a heavy holiday meal, or in the late afternoon, in order to combat the sleepiness and sense of fullness brought on by overeating turkey.

I have started my jog too late in the afternoon. One-half of the white tube is gone below mile 0.8. On the north but south-facing side of the canyon, the snow has largely melted off of the trees, while the frosting remains on the south but north-facing shaded side of the canyon. The road has not been salted, and much of it is covered in a thin layer of ice, and this makes for slow and uncertain footing. Had I arrived at eight or nine in the morning, the white tube for the entire first mile would have still here. But I am compensated by the sound of 10,000 water droplets (8 per second for 20 minutes along the first mile) falling off the warming branches on the south-facing side onto the road with a distinct thump. That sound and the stream predominates the first mile. Insects and birds have disappeared, but near mile 0.3, a lone trout station-keeps behind a rock. It is barely moving and trying to conserve all of its energy against the cold water.

From shaded mile 0.8 to mile 1.2, the white tube is still intact. The trees are all frosted, and illuminated in the diffused light of shade. During the day, the snow covered trees reflect a warm blue light and not the silver-grey seen at night. At each end of this stretch, the white tube contrasts with the warm yellow of sunlit distant ground. Again, this is another magical place and moment in the canyon. From the lateness of the day, it looks like the Sun will not reach this part of the canyon. This part of the white tube may last another day.

From the meadow at mile 1.3, a herd of eight deer, one stag with a good set of antlers and seven does, forage in a clearing high on the south canyon wall. Two of the deer are clearing snow in an oak copse to find acorns and the other are digging through the snow for the green grass underneath (Oct. 30th and Nov. 20th).

During the down-canyon return jog, where the Sun has reached the ice on the road, the water has melted, and a faint mist rises from its surface.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on November 24th, 1858, Thoreau notes “lungwort” lichen grows on oaks but not on pines. On November 24th, 1860, he describes the first light-snow flurries of winter that only lightly dusts trees and creates color contrasts with moss, but then the snow evaporates. See November 21st here.

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