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Winter sunset over the ice and fishing pier at Lake Alvin Recreation Area near Harrisburg.
Winter sunset over the ice and fishing pier at Lake Alvin Recreation Area near Harrisburg.
Tall grass in the late afternoon sun at Newton Hills State Park.
Tall grass in the late afternoon sun at Newton Hills State Park.
Winter sunset in Deuel County.
Winter sunset in Deuel County.
Sundogs over Sioux Falls from Falls Park.
Sundogs over Sioux Falls from Falls Park.
Close up of a sundog rainbow over St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls.
Close up of a sundog rainbow over St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls.
Winter sunset with sundogs near Wall Lake.
Winter sunset with sundogs near Wall Lake.
Rabbit hiding in plain sight in northwestern Sioux Falls.
Rabbit hiding in plain sight in northwestern Sioux Falls.
Northern Cardinal in a snowstorm at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Northern Cardinal in a snowstorm at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Snowfall at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Snowfall at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Color along Sergeant Creek at Newton Hills State Park.
Color along Sergeant Creek at Newton Hills State Park.
Color along Sergeant Creek at Newton Hills State Park.
Color along Sergeant Creek at Newton Hills State Park.
Sumac berries in the late afternoon sun at Newton Hills State Park.
Sumac berries in the late afternoon sun at Newton Hills State Park.
A red barn on a frosty day in rural Minnehaha County.
A red barn on a frosty day in rural Minnehaha County.
Wood Lake Lutheran Church of rural Deuel County at sunset.
Wood Lake Lutheran Church of rural Deuel County at sunset.
A February sunset northwest of Freeman.
A February sunset northwest of Freeman.
A red barn in a patch of sunlight, rural Lincoln County.
A red barn in a patch of sunlight, rural Lincoln County.
Blowing snow with blue shadows in Union County.
Blowing snow with blue shadows in Union County.
Blowing snow with blue shadows in Union County.
Blowing snow with blue shadows in Union County.
Roseni Lutheran near Union Hills State Park at sunset.
Roseni Lutheran near Union Hills State Park at sunset.
An abandoned country school at sunset in Union County.
An abandoned country school at sunset in Union County.
Low clouds reflecting the lights of Parker and Marion added color to this rural Turner County night sky scene.
Low clouds reflecting the lights of Parker and Marion added color to this rural Turner County night sky scene.
Turner County night sky in February.
Turner County night sky in February.
Late afternoon at Palisades State Park after a fresh snowfall.
Late afternoon at Palisades State Park after a fresh snowfall.
Sunburst and snow at Palisades State Park.
Sunburst and snow at Palisades State Park.

The Colors of Winter

Feb 28, 2018

Last month I shared a selection of black and white photos inspired by winter weather. This time, I’d like to explore the color of winter. It may sound oxymoronic to call winter “colorful.” After all, nothing seems to grow but icicles and snowdrifts. Even though there is undeniable beauty in a snow-white landscape, I would be hard pressed to call it “colorful,” wouldn’t I? Maybe not. Even though the green of spring and the many hues of summer are months away, color can still be found. Blues, browns and gold abound this time of year across our landscapes. Elegant sunset skies and even a form of rainbow can also grace the coldest of wintry days in South Dakota.

One of my favorite winter colors is blue. On a sunny day after heavy snow, the sky seems bluer than other days. Low humidity and a lack of dust and other particles in the air make the scene especially bright and crisp. The shades of blue found in shadows also fascinate me, particularly in the late afternoon and early evening when the sun’s rays give off warmer hues. I recently spent a half hour or so trying to capture the beauty of blowing snow in a Union County ditch. I know that is an odd thing to say or do, since blowing snow is not usually our friend, but there I was, frozen fingers and all, enthralled by the play of light, shadow, motion and color in this simple scene.

Southeastern South Dakota had a nice January thaw this year. I took advantage of warmer than average temperatures to hike along Sergeant Creek at Newton Hills State Park south of Canton. I found sumac berries particularly colorful when backlit by the late afternoon sun. Higher up the hills, the tall grass gleamed golden against the backdrop of undergrowth that had kept its leaves throughout the winter. 

Other gems to be found in winter are man-made. Ice on dams is a great reflector of sunsets, and red barns stand out in greater beauty against the whites and blues of winter. There is spectacular color to be found in the wild things around us, too. The red of a male northern cardinal is prettiest in a snowfall, and the brown fur and eyes of a rabbit hiding in a briar patch have their own kind of beauty when struck by the winter sun.

One of the most interesting wintertime scenes usually occurs on the coldest and most unpleasant days. A strong wind whipping up fine ice particles in the lower atmosphere produces sundogs, which are essentially light diffractions on either side of the sun, or small, faint rainbows to our eyes.

And let’s talk about the whiteness of snow itself. Scientifically, white is all colors of the visible spectrum being seen at once. Metaphorically, white is associated with purity and holiness as demonstrated by one of my favorite passages from the ancient prophet Isaiah: “Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as pure snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.”

However you feel about the white blanket of snow covering the ground, it is almost over for another season, and that is also a good thing. If we didn’t have winter, how would we know just how special spring and summer truly are?

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.

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