January 10, 2017

A Crystalizing Dawn

There are moments of beauty and wonder that utterly humble, inspire, and transform us. My walk today along the Old Calf Pasture to Concord's confluence of rivers at Egg Rock was just such a time. Following a welcome early morning coffee hour with conservation colleagues, just down the road, I took the cue of the dawn's sub-zero temperature to go look for frost flowers along the river after we adjourned.  The crystalline harvest was astonishing.  From the Lowell Road bridge, hundreds of bright white clusters were visible, flocking the icy edging along the river's open water.

The humid air hanging low like a scrim across the shoreline and pasture behind, hinted at what might be found there.

Well known today for its bounty of rare Britton's violets in spring, the Old Calf Pasture's wet meadow conditions and proximity to the rivers make it a perfect winter location for such a rare abundance of frost flowers.  These crystalline beauties would have been in full bloom during my early morning meeting but were now loosing some of their leafy definition under the warming sun.

From the pasture, I stepped under the canopy into a glittering wonderland, perfectly described by Thoreau in one of his earliest Journal entries:

Every leaf and twig this morning was covered with a sparkling ice armor; even the grasses in exposed fields were hung with innumerable diamond pendants... It was literally the wreck of jewels and crash of gems - it was as though some superincumbent stratum of the earth had been removed during the night, exposing to light a bed of untarnished crystals.  The scene changed at every step or as the head was inclined to the right or the left.  There were the opal and sapphire and emerald and jasper and beryl and topaz and ruby.  Such is beauty ever, neither here nor there, now nor then, neither in Rome nor in Athens, but wherever there is a soul to admire.  If I seek her elsewhere because I do not find her at home, my search will prove a fruitless one.  (January 21,1838)

At the shoreline, Egg Rock was framed by the adorned branches of river birches,  and the confluence of the Sudbury and Assabet Rivers merged their dark waters and icy blooms to send the wintery Concord River on its way.

As I marveled at the beauty, the ancient history of this sacred place, and my memories of walking, paddling, and ceremony here - it began to snow, the lightest fairy dust of shimmering crystals twirling in the windless air and bright sunlight.  Spontaneously generated, only on that prominence where I stood, by the confluence of humidity with the frigid dry air...this snow globe phenomenon, or precipitation, is called "diamond dust."

Diamond dust lighting a mouse's path to the river.

...I look back for the era of this creation, not into the night but to a dawn for which no man ever rose early enough.  A morning which carries us back beyond the Mosaic creation, where crystallizations are fresh and unmelted.  It is the poet's hour.  (Thoreau - January 26, 1853)


  1. Thank you for these beautiful photos and quotes!!

  2. Just beautiful, Cherrie - always something new to learn from you - and to hunt for on the coldest of mornings! Thank you for your and Thoreau's prose a well. Just magical!

  3. Thank you, Anne. I've enjoyed sharing the delight with you along the way!