A blanket of snow was a pleasant surprise Christmas morning. It has been years since freshly fallen, sparkling snow coincided with Christmas. I think years of brown dirt and grass made my family appreciate the white splendor more.
Another weather gift was icicles forming on the gutter. The adults were not too thrilled, but all the cousins seemed delighted and wanted a bite of nature’s Popsicle.
It was a dilemma for me. I wanted to be carefree and permissible like my grandma always was when icicles were suspended in icy magic along her roofline. She would reach up, snap them off and take the first bite.
However, I couldn’t help but wonder, can eating icicles off the roof be that bad? It actually depends on the surroundings.
Living in the country, our roof probably has fewer contaminants. However, there’s still dirt, bird poop and grime to think about. That’s not exactly the ingredients for my kind of Popsicle. Urban areas have more pollutants collecting on rooftops. Some older roofs might have lead, definitely not the best treat.
Icicles forming in the wilderness or forest should be better to eat than rooftop versions. The perfect weather conditions have to exist to create natural icicles.
For the past several years, we traveled to southern Ohio for a weekend get-a-way at Hocking Hills. Winter hiking allows us to enjoy the usually popular picturesque area with far fewer people on the trails.
We spent hours hiking along the Buckeye Trail, seeing iconic features like Ash Cave and Cedar Falls in their winter glamour. The kids opted for icicles as a source of hydration on the short hikes.
Many of the trails snake around and under rock cliff formations. Almost all the rock cliffs had spectacular icicle displays. The temperature was still cold but afternoon sunshine started to melt the icicles.
After hearing a few crashes, we recognized the danger of hiking under the cliffs. The large icicles were crashing to the ground after warming up in the sunshine.
Melting icicles can cause another danger, water that drips to the ground refreezes forming an icy patch. Many parts of the trail have large, flat rocks that can be very slick when ice forms. Slippery footing was another concern for us as winter hikers.
The trails at Hocking Hills were beautiful and treacherous at the same time. Many hikers opt to add traction systems to their hiking boots. The traction systems range from low profile options that have stainless steel coils to grip slippery surfaces to metal claw-like crampons for extreme conditions. The updated slip-on versions are easier to use than older models and make it possible to enjoy the outdoors safely.
An obvious second course in a winter meal is fallen snow. While icicles quench the thirst, snow adds a little crunch before melting away.
I had already allowed icicles; I couldn’t really draw an arbitrary line in the snow before they munched away on the white delicacy. I did however offer advice.
Besides the obvious wisdom of avoiding yellow and brown snow, it’s actually safer to eat the top layer of snow after it has fallen for an hour or so. The first snow to fall in a winter storm acts like a scrub brush on the atmosphere.
The intricate latticework of snowflakes traps contaminants from the air and then transports them to the ground. Black carbon, or soot, is the most common contaminant found in snow. I think most people will admit to eating a handful of snow and surviving.
My grandma had over 90 winters of frozen foraging without a consequence. Like many other things in life, moderation is the key when partaking in winter nourishment. Who am I to use snow and icicles as a life lesson?
With a straight face, I warned my kids and their cousins about overindulgence. Was I talking about snow and icicles, or was I talking about life in general? One delicious bite of snow can lead to another and then it becomes a slippery slope of soot consumption. One slurp of an icicle is invigorating, however, eating the length of a gutter is gluttonous.
Greek philosopher Epicurus accurately advised, “Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.”
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