The past two days have finally bestowed upon us the first semblance of winter; the Vermont Castings burning 24 hours eliminating that innate inner chill. You realize the wind will permeate every opening in your clothing when you exit the nest, invading your body like an ice cube stuffed down the back of your shirt.
The outside air interrupts your inhale as it stabs at your lungs on that first breath. The ground and leaves are covered with rime, that frosty coating, glistening as a sunbeam reaches through the naked branches.
Until Tuesday, with the exception of our freak October 29th white dumping, the weather has felt more like an extended mid autumn. But Tuesday night brought in the first “Arctic blast” from our neighborly friends in Canada. I watched the thermometer plummet like a skier dropping off the edge of a double diamond slope. Just hearing the wind sent me shivering back to the wood stove.
This sudden visit of an outlander from Santa land, the North Pole, did not however alter my plans for Wednesday. I began dreaming with excitement about my first trek over the river and through the woods bundled with hat, gloves, scarf, and heavy (wool) coat. I have been anxiously anticipating this first winter day. Wrapped like a stuffed Teddy bear I grabbed Sebastian’s leash, opened the door and eagerly dove into the frigid air, the wind whistling through my hat stinging my face.
Believe it or not, this is one of my favorite times here in New England. Life would be so tedious and dreary with an 80 degree breeze and sun 365 days a year.
After the initial bite of cold, the next sensation to overwhelm me was the sound. The air is so clear that the crisp resonance of my feet crunching over the leaves notifies my ears to “listen up”. I come across my first patch of hoarfrost of this winter. Hoarfrost is the icy combination of frost and dirt that seems to grow up from the ground forming miniature stalagmites.
I am so tempted to step right through it just to listen to the icy dirt crackle as my boot crushes the delicate icicles. I am able to suppress this urge and I kneel next to the patch examining the intricate field of diminutive ice spikes. Then I could postpone my impulse no longer-CRUNCH-I love this sound and sensation.
This also is my first encounter with any kind of ice this winter.
Ice, frozen water, the bane of any driver, the absolute necessity of any cooling summer drink. The ice I hasten to discover though is that irregular, glacial cover that seems to hover over the Wolfpit Brook. Where it sits atop a calm pool it is clear, allowing me to see the stones below and the water continuing to run under this frozen blanket. Most interesting, however, is the manner in which the frost white shapes itself clinging to rocks and logs above the flowing stream. In places where the rock is hidden, the iceform gives the impression of dangling unattached above the gurgling water below.
The ice also seems to freeze waterfalls motionless with the frosty white mass taking on the bumpy, descending form of the water rushing below. You can hear the roar beneath yet this icy shell doesn’t move. It doesn’t glisten in the sun as clear or smooth ice does. It almost appears as if it would be soft to touch.
Yet one touch could bring it crashing into the cascading brook to be swept away until blocked by a log or rock mid stream. One touch of my hand could undue a long night of work, the water jumping up as it splashes over rocks and pebbles, freezing one layer at a time. The brook and frigid air toiled all night to reward me with this wonderful image. I think I’ll let it be and allow nature’s coming warmth bring down the icy mantle.
I continue on my sojourn along the Wolfpit entranced by the superfluity of shapes around each bend and over each falls. Sebastian braves an attempt to cross mid stream and the ice consents to allow him to slip to the other bank forgoing a cold cleansing. Occasional clunks and splashes advise me that the day is warming and pieces of frozen surface have broken free to float downstream, bouncing at each bank like a pinball. The sun is high and early hunger is pulling me home but I have enjoyed my opening ice day. Soon I hope to glide across more sturdy ice when the ponds freeze over at Huntington. Until then-it was unquestionably “ice cake” time at the Wolfpit Preserve.
Dear Readers: Starting next week my column, Nature’s Nooks, will be appearing Sunday in the Bethel Patch. Thank you for your continued interest the wonders of nature.