Angela Cannon-Crothers


Feathers, Snow & Sorrow

Posted by Angela Cannon-Crothers on February 13, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Feathers, Snow, and Sorrow

Outside with Angie

“Those who dwell…..among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth, are never alone or weary of life.” -Rachel Carson


Nature is a constant reminder that there is a Spirit of Life that continues on beyond the doings of man. It’s not difficult to connect to, even if you can’t get outdoors, there are always the birds. A winter feeder or two, with plenty of black oil sunflower seeds, a suet block -- even peanut butter on stale bread – will bring them close. The birds at my feeders are dressed much like winter businesspeople in dark grays, black, tan, and just a hint or russet or daring red here or there. I had an evening grosbeak at the feeder in November, bringing back memories of my Vermont days with a baby boy on my hip. This winter I have a colorful pair of cardinals, at least two tribes of chick-a-dees, white and red breasted nuthatch mascots, swarms of dark-eyed juncos (actually in the sparrow family), kingly looking blue jays (of course), downy and hairy woodpeckers, pine siskin, and a couple tree sparrows. I was surprised to see this harbinger of spring, the tree sparrow, and thought at first it must have been a chipping sparrow with its ruddy crown, but no, there was the dark “stick pin” in the center of its pale chest – how apropos.

The winter of 2012-13 may bring a host of unexpected visitors: major birding sights are predicting the appearance of crossbills, evening grosbeaks, and pine grosbeaks in our area. Recently, a birder up at Durand Eastman Park in Rochester documented a Type 3 red crossbill (there are several types evolving new adaptations right now, Type 3 has the smallest bill). White-winged crossbills, red crossbills, and the grosbeaks are irrupting in new regions like ours this season -- some traveling across the entire U.S. due to spruce and hemlock seed declines in the Northwest states and Canada. Other less-frequently sighted species, like bohemian waxwings, will be here looking for buckthorn berries and other wild fruits; heavy draught throughout the north and central Midwest left little in the way of nutritious boreal mountain ash berries to sustain themselves on.

Rarely seen birds, with their unexpected colorings and element of surprise, are like soul food for the eyes. A good field guide is useful but several on-line sites like and, are helpful too. There will be other winged wonders to spot -- flocks of snow buntings will arrive and there are whisperings about the potential of boreal owls wintering here this year as well.


I cannot imagine a world without snow. Last week, at winter solstice time, while the valley below waited for a few degrees more of a drop, you could drive up just a couples miles from Naples and enter a small snow line of white-etched trees and frosted ground. The feeling was magical. Winter in sepia tones that bleed into gloomy skies and long nights are simply too stark and barren.

I cannot imagine a world without snow: The shadows of winter are long ones. We are forced to be stiller than we had before, to venture inward both more physically and more psychologically. Since time began northern peoples have drummed to ward off the dark spirits of the season, huddled close for warmth and comfort, lit fires, and called their shamans in. Many early peoples and far north native traditions did not see a clear delineation between the metaphysical world and the physical one; they could communicate with wild animals, with their ancestors, with spirits, and with the Earth. I think that winter reminds us of these lost connections and our need for them now more than any other time of the year. Philosopher and naturalist, Kathleen Dean Moore, writes “is it a mistake to look at the world to tell us the meaning of our plummeting lives?.....Maybe there is no meaning in the world itself – no sorrow. In fact, no good or bad, no beginning or end.”

I cannot imagine a world without snow. I cannot imagine a world without light, a landscape drenched in heavy silence, an earth and sky decorated in crystalline structures of all kinds. Snow is purifying. Snow covers a world in its cycle of death and passing and sleep with something physically miraculous, the light of which is like an inner flame. Environmentally, snow is also a source for recharging our springs, wells, and lakes. It is prelude to a summer of precious water and also a source to recharge ourselves, to offer play, diversion, and respite, gifting a whole new dimension to our world and our lives.


I cannot imagine a world without hope just as I cannot imagine a world without snow or birds. Kathleen Dean Moore writes in her book, Wild Comfort, “I don’t know what despair is, if it’s something or nothing, a kind of filling up or an emptying out. I don’t know what sorrow does to the world, what it adds or takes away.” But she continues: “How we feel about events, how we respond to them, how we transform them and judge them – these are our own decisions….a matter of the shape of our spirit, the corrugation of the feathers in our wings.”

We can learn a lot from the birds; recall the wonder of their hollow bones, their feather structure, their breaking down of territories in season to be in community. For sorrow’s sake I will do only what I can: grow to feel the cleansing of freshly fallen snow, watch the birds, fold paper and cut intricate snowflake forms to send love to children in sorrow shared, honor our fallen firefighters, and work to be part and witness to the world shining on.




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