December 17, 2012

Defining Moments

Our December Solstice walk at Great Meadows offered the perfect confluence of early winter elements to help us align and refine our sense of time and place. 

© Anne Whitaker 2012
We set off in search of wild epiphanies, and a bit of magic.  A fine snow was falling, creating beautiful patterns characteristic of December in Concord's shallow wetlands, mysterious circles and graceful sweeps informed by the particular conditions of newly iced surfaces.  The patterns suggested a mysterious physics was at work but whether it was daily freeze-thaw rhythms, muskrat feeding and breathing perforations, or the melting of ice near heat-absorbing vegetation, we were uncertain of the exact cause of these snow circles.

© Janice Koskey 2012
© Anne Whitaker 2012
In November, the refuge's shallow marshes 'sprout' many dark mounds heaped high with mud and dried cattails, roots and tubers, and lotus pods.  Muskrats are the architects of these larger sleeping lodges and smaller, pushup feeding shelters that stand through the winter to protect them from the cold and predators.  Dusted by this early snowfall, we suddenly were made aware of the extent of this rodent community out under the ice.

Muskrat feeding lodge, © Janice Koskey 2012
The snow's structure, itself, provided clues about prevailing weather conditions.  No thermometers or wind gauges were needed.  The delicate, needle-like crystals gathering on sleeves, leaves, and dried plants, were a telltale sign of a calm winter's day with temperatures in the low 20's (F.).

Needle crystals on leaf, © Anne Whitaker 2012
Swamp milkweed, © Anne Whitaker
In December, the dark and slow-moving water of the Concord River reflects the arching trees and sky above.  During these early, gentle snowfalls, the whiteness collects on bare upward facing surfaces of roots, branches, and trees articulating their dark outlines and rendering the landscape in black and white like a charcoal drawing.  As we gazed at these reflections, one walker recited from memory these lines from James Russell Lowell's poem "Lines" in remembrance of the three British soldiers buried upstream by the Old North Bridge:

From farm to farm the Concord glides,
And trails my fancy with its flow;
O'erhead the balanced hen-hawk slides,
Twinned in the river's heaven below.

Reflecting, © Janice Koskey 2012
© Janice Koskey 2012

Etched silver maple roots, © Joe Snodgrass 2012
Buttonbush at the oxbow, © Joe Snodgrass 2012
Finally, we went looking under the low-leaning buttonbush branches for one more river or streamside hallmark of winter -- ice bells.  Beautiful, gleaming silver bells growing slowly larger from the splash, dip, and freeze of moving water on hovering roots and branches.

Ice bells, © Janice Koskey 2012
Many thanks to walkers Janice Koskey, Joe Snodgrass, and Anne Whitaker for permission to use their beautiful photographs.

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