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Swamp Snow

Bayou-Diversity (9 December 2017) SWAMP SNOW Swamp snows don’t come often to Louisiana. Only during a rare conjugal visit of otherwise estranged weather gods, warm wet air from the gulf overrides a lingering cold front to produce moisture that morphs into hexagonal crystals. If the snow seeds are sufficiently fertile and the humidity high, flakes the size of dimes, nickels, or even the wings of bride moths float into the winter world of baldcypress trees, Spanish moss, and squealer ducks. Almost always the temperature is marginal, the apparition fleeting as a persistent sun sweeps clean the spell in a cruel shower of snowmelt. It is best to visit a snowed swamp soon while the sky is still leaden, to eschew the garish glare in favor of shadowless hues, subtle and natural. Tree bark and slough water provide contrast for the whiteness. Willow oaks have coarse, dark-roast coffee bark; the skin of cypress is furrowed russet. All things botanical, apart from the vertical, wear ermine mantles, especially the logs on their journeys back to earth. Members of the wetland arboretum appear to doze and transpire slowly under their insulating blankets. The water is translucent black, and cold as liquid water can be. It is swamp blood sustained now with snowflakes as well as raindrops. As molecules flowing across the gills of widow skimmer dragonfly larvae they are not discernible. Pumped through xylem eighty feet up to the highest twigs of an overcup oak in order to nurture an acorn, it matters not what form they entered the swamp. Here contrast is absorbed. Louisiana swamp snows bear other gifts in the shape of anomalies. Orb spiders in their webs snare snowflakes instead of mosquitoes. In the frigid water wood ducks preen, cavort, and squeal in anthropomorphic displays of delight. Emerald mosses go about their subtropical business of procreation, and fish crows fly over without ever uttering a word. They know that all traces of the day’s conjuration will vanish on the morrow. (Adapted from Bayou-Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country, LSU Press)


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