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Snow on the Railing
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A couple hours after only the fifth night of above-freezing temperatures since the beginning of December, winter cold blasted back into town on forty-mile an hour wind gusts and by next morning we had been buried under ten inches of snow.

We can tell what kind of storm we've had by how much snow we see piled on the deck's railings when we pull up the front window blind in the morning. Neither of us is about to go out and hold a ruler in the cold. We've become good at estimating the snow depth by reference to the railing.

On the morning of the last storm the narrow wall of snow rising from the rail narrowed towards the top, indicating that it had about reached the height at which instability prevents further build up -- therefore a bit less than a foot. When there is more snow, or wind, we refer to secondary, less accurate measurement tools -- the roof of the shed, the top of the propane tank, the car's tires or the pine stump in the middle of the backyard.

When the winds stay away long enough for the snow to settle and freeze the railing displays a stratified record of past storms, fresher falls clearly differented from older ones by visible lines of demarcation between white layers. Winds often blow down sections of the snow leaving crenellations. Other times the effects of the melt turn the walls into icy lace.

This morning Mary noticed a new effect. "It looks like elephants," she told me.

She was right, the forms carved out of the snow by snow and wind resembled a line of circus elephants holding each other's tails.

The temperature was around 10F as I admired the white pachyderms. Surely elephants prefer warmer temperatures. Perhaps their appearance here was an omen of spring soon to arrive.

Then again, maybe they were wooly mammoths.

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