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Description Practice: Winter Mountains

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

I’ve mentioned before how I often struggle with writing descriptions that I am proud of. Since it’s been a few months since that post, I figured I could use a little practice and decided to return to the mountain overlook that I described last time. While winter isn’t officially here, its grip can be felt far more than it could last time when most things were still green.

I know I definitely felt the bitter chill of the wind, so I didn’t stay there long. The sun was setting and I could only handle so much cold with my dingy old jacket that was good enough for Southern California winters. Not so much the case when you’re standing on the edge of a mountain with the wind at you back two days after a snow storm passed through.

This time around, I won’t be looking directly at the real scene I’ll be describing, because, once again, it was cold. Instead, I’ll be looking at some photos I took the day off. I’ll just have to imagine the chill in the air brought on by the freezing wind.

First Attempts

As with last time, I tried to pick certain aspects of the scenery around me (in the photos) and write a few sentences on each one. Once I did that, then I worked on combining as much of it as I could into a more finished piece in the next section.

The sun hung low on the western horizon in a crisp blue sky, its weak rays barely cresting the tops of the pines. Long, deep shadows stretched out from the peak and provided refuge for the light dusting of snow from a recent storm. The dimming rays did their best to offer warmth, but were overpowered by winter’s breath.

The wind gusted and howled along the mountainside. In the rare moments when things stilled, the wind could still be heard whispering through the pine tops. It shook them relentlessly as if trying to convince them to go to sleep like the neighboring aspens. Still the pines clung to wakefulness. They would not give up their emerald needles any time soon.

The aspens had long since heeded the words of warning on the wind. Their warm leaves had since lost their spring coloring and dropped to the ground. Now the groves of white trees stood barren in slumber.

Snow still lingered along the mountain while the rolling hills below had already lost their covering. Despite the cold here at the top of the world, evidence of the snow’s losing battle with the weakening sun showed. The dried, frozen remains of plant life stuck up from the snow, while patches of gravel were framed by thinning mounds of white.

The rolling green hills of summer had withered away. Losing its water, and experiencing the harsh cold, the grass dried up and left the world feeling colder.

The pines seemed to have hardly noticed the change in seasons. Their emerald green needles looked as cool and vibrant as ever. They towered over the dwindling and slumbering world as if this was how things always were. The cold didn’t bother them. (Let it go! Let it GOOO! Can’t hold me back anymore.)

Rocks, now exposed from their covering of lush undergrowth, added to the sense of cold desolation in the air. Their gray coloring blended in with the pale coloring of winter.

Comments from editing weeks later: It is so hard not to modify my first attempts and add on to them. There are little changes that I want to make to improve them but don’t because I want to show how rough first attempts can be. I feel this helps show that things don’t have to be perfect right off the bat and that they can be greatly improved upon later.

Let’s Polish It Up

I took a few days off between writing the last part and the rewrite to ensure that I looked at it with a fresh set of eyes. Now that I’ve got some basic ideas down about the various aspects of the view, let’s see what I can come up with when I combine them all:

Up on the mountain, the sun hung low on the western horizon. Its weak rays of light offered very little warmth as they crested the tops of the towering pines. Together, the mountain and its evergreens cast long, deep shadows across the valley, providing refuge for the lingering patches of snow. The frozen remains of plant life stuck up through the white covering while bits of earth and gravel were framed by the melting remains.

At the top of the world, the wind howled as it raced over the rocky slopes. Even if it stilled in one area, it could always be heard rushing through the pine tops, trying to convince them to go to sleep like their neighbors.

Still, the pines didn’t seem to notice the bitter chill in the air. They towered over the slumbering aspens, who had long since heeded the wind’s warning, like watchful guardians. The pale trees’ bright summer leaves had since lost their color and fallen to the ground, leaving the white trunks barren.

Boulders, now visible as their covering of underbrush died away, lay scattered across the ground and amongst the trees. Their pale gray colors mixed with dried grasses that spread all the way down the mountain and across the rolling hills up to the horizon and beyond. Winter had sapped the warmth from the land, and with it, most of its color, leaving the world feeling barren.

Final Thoughts

This is a whole lot easier when you are actually in the moment, able to write everything down as you see it. While picture quality on phones has improved, they can never really compare to being there in person. I’m sure a real camera would provide better results, but I’m no photographer, so I’ll stick with the smartphone for now.

In the end, the picture quality isn’t super important. Most of the time, I’ll be making places up anyway and, sadly, there is no way to take photos of my imagination. Oh well, this is good practice, and I hope doing something as simple as this is as helpful for you as it is for me.

It’s also kind of fun, so I highly recommend it. Just immerse yourself in an environment, either real or imagined, and try to describe as much as you can. You might be surprised by what you see and come up with.

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