January 23, 2017

January Moods - Walden Changes

After several days of nursing a cold, I take a walk around Walden today for some healing communion.  Moody weather is moving in ahead of a forecast nor-easter.  It's late January, but it looks and feels like March has arrived.  The wind is quickening carrying troughs of both warm and icy air across the pond. Fierce snow squalls come and go and only a third of Walden's surface is frozen, with just a thin film of ice instead of the gleaming firm surface that usually marks a January day.

This scene that I photographed on January 17, 2015 is closer to Walden's familiar winter aspect ...

Today, in Thoreau's Cove, open water laps the shoreline with no hint of the ice adornments that gleamed here in mid-December.

Tributes hang nearby...

Back out on the pond, the northeast wind howls toward the western shore and snow squalls are whirling across its surface.

But as I round the turn to the southern shore and move further into the lee of the wind, a thin high tinkling sound catches my attention -- "ice chimes," pond music more often heard during spring "ice out" time when thinning edges of the ice are fractured by wind-whipped waves and the gleaming shards wash into one another and over still solid ice nearby.

Listen carefully for the soft tinkling of the ice, between wind gusts...

As I'm now reading my way through Walden Pond:  A History, by Barksdale Maynard, today's circumambulation reaffirms that in so many ways Walden Pond, in its now re-forested basin may, in some ways, offer an "experience of wildness" closer to that in the precolonial era than in almost any time since....thanks to preservation efforts over the last forty years.  But at the same time, my New England sensibilities warn me that this January's vistas of open water and no snow cover are not normal.   Subtler and more irrevocable forces of change are underway with warming seasons, greater extremes in weather, invading floral and faunal species, and the pressures of our ever increasing population.  Now more than ever, we need to be constantly vigilant about local, state, and federal policies and our own personal choices that can impact this planet's environmental integrity and all that truly sustains us and this very special place.

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)