Minnesota Farmer

The life underneath
February 11, 2010, 11:34 am
Filed under: cold, Farm, Ice, Minnesota, rain, seasons, snow, tillage, time, weather, Wildlife, winter

Much of the northern part of the U.S. is experiencing snow falls such as we have not seen for years.  This huge amount of snow has allowed the formation of a phenomenon that is usually found only in areas where snow fall is always great.  It is called the pukak (An Inuit word).

The pukak is the area below the snow where small animal life can live in relative comfort while those above struggle in the cold.

We went into the winter with frozen ground.  The early part of winter came before the snows.  As the ground froze, all fall tillage came to a halt.  The deep blanket of snow has allowed that frozen ground to thaw and pukak to form.  Now when you remove the snow you find wet soft earth.

If you venture out into a field or meadow where the dead vegetation still exists, and if you dig down to the ground and look at the bottom of that snow, you will find a world of wonder.  Small animals, mostly voles and shrews, and a few insects and earthworms  have a hidden world away from the dangers of the larger predators.  A cathedral world supported by vegetation and pillars of ice.

As spring comes I have often seen the evidence of this world in the tunnels that are left behind.  Little paths of mown grass where voles have moved,  long domed trails made by small animals  surviving the winter.

The relative warmth of the earth has allowed melting snow, and a little rain, to peculate into the earth and make its way to our creeks and rivers.  This will help us in the coming months as we see the snow melt of spring approach.  With a warm, unfrozen earth to help absorb the water we will see a reduced chance of flooding come spring.  It is amazing to see the creeks already running full and in some cases even overflowing.

Spring will also remove the safe world of these small creatures just in time for the spring migrations of birds and the birth of small predators.  It’s a wild world out there.  Get out and explore.



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