January 19, 2015

Walden Circumambulation - Frozen in Time

A brief January thaw came through on Sunday bringing mid-40s temps, rain, and strong winds...all making contact with Concord's icy ponds and wetlands.  Such changing winter conditions mixed with the intense angled light of the season are a clarion call for my photographer's heart.  I set off again for Walden, encountering an unexpected and wondrous spectacle of form, reflection, and the history of the pond's winter experience revealed in every icy inch of its surface and shoreline.

Along the shallow stretches along the northern shoreline, where the sun radiates throughout these short days, the once firm ice has thinned and opened in some spots and caught pools of fresh rains in others, creating intergalactic visions of light and dark and jagged yet fluid terrain. 

Midway along the northern shore and following all the way to Thoreau's Cove, a tenting of the ice  occurs nearly annually.  I've seen this same phenomenon along the Concord River during winter's that follow frigid, high water autumns.  Along shorelines, water freezes early and quickly beginning the ice sheets that eventually cover the waterbody.  As water levels drop, the ice sheet collapses toward the center of the water body breaking the ice sheets along the shoreline, creating tented structures, fractures, and inverted broken edges that reveal a myriad of fascinating freeze-thaw phenomena both within and under these ice structures. 

January 17, 2015

Walden Circumambulation - Winter's Waterdrum

On Saturday, the sunny, brisk, and windless afternoon calls me toward Walden's frozen basin.  Usually I avoid visiting our hallowed pond on weekends when visitors are at their peak.  But today it all feels convivial sharing the bracing air and ice together.  It is 3 pm and the sun's low angle casts a strong, warm spotlight on all of the activity....fisherman in their favorite places, skaters gliding end to end, families skittering together, a puppy slip-sliding through his first ice walk, elderly couples arm in arm for steadiness, the ever-present wave of Chinese visitors making their pilgrimage and posing for selfies against the gleaming pondscape, another pilgrim above me talking on about the life-changing impact reading Walden had on her life while seemingly inattentive to her own experience here in this moment.

Chung-gachun-wump-wung...the deep pond begins to sing under my feet, its sounds echoing off the hills, amazing and startling some of its explorers.  As the sun lowers and the air cools, the ice expands and becomes more taught across its surface.  The ice's cracking and movements send sound waves through the air pockets and deep water below creating a beautiful, haunting resonance.  This 61-acre water drum calls visitors from near and far to join in shared communion.

Fisherman, beautifully silhouetted in the late afternoon light bring a wilder presence to this otherwise civilized weekend gathering.  Those out at mid-pond have simple effects yet, by their movements, convey a deeper wisdom about the winter elements and this pond's particular nature through their selective movement and enterprise.  While noting this, I am reminded of Thoreau's reflective comment about the fisherman at Walden, "His life itself passes deeper in nature than the studies of the naturalist penetrate; himself a subject for the naturalist."

January 2, 2015

Altered States II


On New Year's afternoon, I return to the fractured, icy floodplain, near the Timber Trail on the eastern end of Great Meadows.  The tall pines along the shoreline and mature silver maples in the flood zone lend a haunting feel to this icy corner.  Great horned owls often roost in these woods, their calls deepening the mood here.

At 3 pm the sun is low, illuminating the old trees and casting their reflections onto their silvery ice collars and the black ice below.  I bushwack toward the mirrored expanse, drawn by a darker, more monochromatic pallette of color than I encountered the day before.  Two refuge visitors appear to be following and watching me at a distance, for so long that I begin to wonder about their curiosity.

This is the place where I encounter mink on early spring mornings and great-spangled fritillary butterflies feeding on the nectar of nearby milkweed blossoms in early July.  As young caterpillars, the fritillaries dine on nearby woodland violets.

As the sun dips below the horizon and I'm in the last stretch of the walk back to my car, another car pulls up to me and visitors ask if I was looking at owls in the flooded woods on the eastern end of the refuge - they were the ones following me!  I happily share that I was photographing ice and its reflections but they look a bit puzzled.  After encouraging them to tune into that winter spectacle on their next visit, I reassure them that we also often hear great horned owls calling from the pine woods around dusk at this time of year and that screech owls have occasionally been spotted in tree hollows near there.

As I approach my car, another visitor calls out a familiar question, "See anything interesting?"...oh where would I begin!

January 1, 2015

Altered States I - Ice, Light, and Awareness

On New Year's eve, newly forming ice catches the raking light of the late afternoon sun and the reflections from silver maples overhead, creating a fractured perspective of winter's waterworld by the Concord River.  Perhaps a long affinity for late Cubist paintings roused my attention to an offering otherwise easily missed.

And these patterns had an accompaniment.  Slow walking with two dear friends through the river floodplain at Great Meadows, we stopped to listen to the cacophony of shattering sounds coming from the frozen basin surrounding these small, ice-skirted trees.  Mysteriously, it seemed that unseen creatures were adding weight to the thin ice causing it to instantly crumble.  But exploring the possibilities with my friends and later my husband, it seems that as the temperature cooled and the slanting sun warmed the surface of the ice, frozen patches gave way to air pockets beneath them, left by receding waters.

I welcome, the altering states of ice, light, and awareness in the winter months ahead, and hope that everyone will be blessed in this new year with seeing the familiar in entirely new and inspiring ways.