Snow and Light

We finally got our first measurable snowfall (4-5 inches?) of the year here in east central Nebraska.  I took my camera for a walk at our family prairie yesterday evening, enjoying the way a little snow really transforms a landscape.  I found and followed tracks of coyotes, mice, birds, and deer, and flushed flocks of meadowlarks and tree sparrows.  As the sun started to drop quickly toward the horizon, I wandered through one of the areas we grazed particularly hard last summer, enjoying the broad expanse of whiteness, punctuated by scattered plants poking up through the snow.

Heath aster (Aster ericoides) protrudes from a tiny mound of snow.

I spent the next half hour mainly lying prone on the snow, tripod legs splayed flat to the ground, photographing heath aster and sideoats grama plants, and having a great time.  As you look through these photos, you’ll be able to see how the quality and color of the light changed as the sun approached the horizon.  Shadows became much less stark and more blue in color, and the plants and snow both reflected increasingly golden-orange light from the setting sun.

Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)

More sideoats

More heath aster

Final sideoats photo, as the sun was right at the horizon.

The opportunity to watch sunrises and sunsets is a big perk of living on the Plains, where we get an unobstructed view of the sun from horizon to horizon, without pesky trees or mountains in the way.   On many nights, the combination of a low sun angle, expansive sky, and scattered clouds can provide spectacular views.  Other times, however, the best way to appreciate a setting sun is to turn and look in the opposite direction at the changing colors of light and shadows.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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6 Responses to Snow and Light

  1. Mike says:

    Wonderful illuminating pictures. I enjoy your postings and they help us learn by showing God’s goodness. Merry Christmas!

  2. Ron Cress says:

    Thank you Chris for the wonderful visual year!

  3. Pat says:

    Those blues and golds are wonderful. Merry Snowy Christmas!

  4. marknupen says:

    Yes We get that same angle of lighting on the Barrens of Northwestern Wisconsin. Great photos and colors. Thanks

  5. Ernest Ochsner says:

    Blues and golds, what better Christmas gift could any of us ask for. Thanks again Chris for sharing.
    We really do live in a miraculous place don’t we.

  6. James McGee says:

    I love the prairie, but I stayed inside with the kids today. If the temperature kept dropping at the pace it had dropped over the last week we would find out what happens at absolute zero before the end of winter. You know it is getting cold when the ice starts forming on the inside of your home’s windows.

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