Living Snowfence

Posted by on Feb 28, 2015 in Unmowed Blog, winter | 1 comment

The wind is howling. The temperature is frigid. And snow is covering the road, filling the air—total white-out. I can hardly see a foot in front of me.

And yet, when the swirling snow clears for a second, I glimpse clear blue sky overhead. It’s a beautiful day. Clear, sunny. It’s actually, for a change, not snowing. Then why is there so much snow in the air, drifting dangerously across the road?

And as I drive along, I realize that some stretches of road are fine. It’s only some spots—the same spots, it seems, every year—that get drifted over. The poor overworked snowplow guys have to come out again and again, even if it doesn’t snow, to clear these spots. Why? Is there more wind at these particular points? More snow?

Not really. The main difference is bushes.

The humble bush. The lowly shrubs that no one ever notices. They aren’t pretty wildflowers, they aren’t majestic trees. Plain old bushes. But they show their true value in snowy winters like this one. Their thick network of branches hold back the snow like protecting hands. Where the road is lined with a thick swath of trees, bushes, and weeds, the road is safer. The places where the snow drifts dangerously across the road are, without exception, places where there is no roadside vegetation at all.

(Of course the town mows the roadsides, and that’s fine. Makes it safer for us as well as the deer and rabbits that are so determined on those kamikaze dashes across the road at night. I’m talking about where privately-owned fields and yards border the mowed edge of the public road.)

I remember driving the narrow back roads of England on a long-ago vacation. Every road was lined with a hedge, five feet or so high, and about five feet wide. It was spring, and the hedges were twittering and chirping, alive with birds. Nothing like shrubbery for bird habitat.

But today I’m not thinking about chirping birds, I just want to get home alive. Whenever the road is lined with protecting shrubbery, I can relax a little. But driving along an open field, my knuckles go white as I clutch the steering wheel and squint to see through the hurricane of flying snow.

Bushes are a fence—a living snow fence. Google “living snow fence” just for fun, and you’ll find that there are dozens of websites about them. Living snow fences are defined as “linear plantings of single or multiple rows of trees or shrubs for the purpose of wind reduction.”

But no one planted the shrubs that border this little back road I’m cruising along. The bushes just grew there, as bushes do, until we mow them down. So next summer, as we mow our yards and lawns, think about it. A five-foot wide swath of unmowed area, left along the road, will quickly grow into some shrubby undergrowth that will serve as a living snow fence. In summer, sitting on the riding mower, it’s easy to forget about February’s howling winds. But they’ll be back all too soon.

Thanks to Well Horton for this amazing photograph.

http://wells-horton.smugmug.com/wells horton winter road

One Comment

  1. I don’t know what our local songbirds would do without bushes and hedges!

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