February 19, 2015

February Walk at Great Meadows

Photo by Larry Warfield

Great Meadows NWR - Concord
Saturday, February 21
10 am - noon
Join Cherrie for a rare look at the marshes and floodplain blanketed in record snowfall.  We'll meet in the parking lot near the new kiosk.  As always, donations will be gratefully accepted.

Directions:  Follow Rte. 62 in Concord to Monsen Rd.  On Monsen Rd., turn left into refuge driveway where road turns sharply right and follow to parking lot at the end.

Co-sponsored with Friends of the Assabet River NWR

January 19, 2015

Frozen in Time - Walden on Ice

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. 

Along ocean shorelines, but less often at the edges of inland ponds, frozen wave forms can be found, where the wind whips up briefly fluid surfaces that then flash freeze in near zero temperatures...as happened this weekend.

More stories in the ice...here beautiful shadowy impressions made by some of the coarser glacial till along Walden's shore.

Here a frozen moment in time captures sinking leaves and their bubble trails chronicling a passing cold front and the ponds wind-whipped surface as temperatures quickly plunged.

Thousands of tiny bubbles encasing this floating oak leaf are frozen into the pond's icier expanse catching the sunlight and glowing like a silver treasure.

In sunny Thoreau's Cove, the ice's melting surface and captured pools of the previous days rain mirror impressions of shoreline trees.

An ice fisherman threads his way across the mostly frozen but partially thawing pond ice to drill a new hole.  I love the blinding backlight of the winter sun that silhouette's his movements that sets the whole pond and shoreline shimmering.

Shiner or bait...dual identities

To the casual passer-by, this long view gives no hint of the icy wonders that gleam in the backlight or metamorphose along the shore.

View from western shore with the sun at my back
Along Walden's southern edge, the ice's surface, patterns, and encapsulations suggest calmer waters and fewer abrupt changes.

Circling back to my starting point on the eastern shore, near the public boat launch, a final patch of turbulent ice reveals a rarely frozen area along the shore where spring seepage brings in warmer water.  In this frigid winter, the surface water whips up in the icy wind and repeatedly flash freezes, a final reminder of Walden's many winter guises.

January 17, 2015

Walden...Winter's Waterdrum Calls

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 strong a 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."

But I also come here today to find inspiration in the ice.  It is glaringly beautiful and yields a record of this winter's stormy sequences that have stirred, frozen, thawed, and patterned the pondscape.  A hunt for puzzles and treasure through the disciplined focus of the lens, for me, promises a very fulfilling afternoon.

Black ice, drifted snow, and irregular refrozen shapes create abstract patterns that hold stories of the interplay of wind and temperature over the early weeks of winter.

This week, another local photographer and Thoreauvian posted a similar photo of the ice patterns below , in part prompting my expedition today.  They cover about a 10x20 foot area near the point rounding into Thoreau's Cove on the northern shore.  These circles appear to be remnants of a creative endeavor, seemingly embossed into softened ice.  Apparent thawing and refreezing make their origin hard to decipher, but I wonder if they might have been inspired by the current Walden, revisted exhibition at the deCordova Museum.

Mysterious impressions
As the sun sinks behind the southwestern corner of the shoreline, the water drum rhythms quicken, and I enjoy watching how the remaining visitors respond to this sonorous moment in winter wildness. 

Walking back at last toward the eastern shore, some curved lines in the ice catch my eye, so I turn to view them in the sun's backlight and an angel appears.  Another moment of grace on the ice.

And as only the skaters' blades can still be heard, the sun disappears leaving a blush on both sky and ice.

January 2, 2015

Altered States - Day 2


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 of 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.

December 27, 2014

Tempering December's Expectations

Today, began with a perfect December sunrise, full of winter clarity and color.  All year, I look forward to the quiet insulation of snowfalls, the crystalline transformation of the land and waterways, the freezing over of wetlands that invites deeper exploration of their secrets. But as the holiday whirlwind subsides, I am startled by the strength of my own longing for a wintery December walk and how that brings disappointment in the unusually warm weather we're having.

I head out to Great Meadows and join a swarm of holiday visitors along the Dike Trail, who are basking in the warmth of the mid-day sun.  Inside, I'm grumbling about the absence of ice and snow, the chatter, the flatness of the light on the monochromatic landscape.  Then I catch my thoughts.  When I lead each monthly walk here, I ask all participants to set aside their expectations and preoccupations in order to fully receive what this special place has to offer in the moments that we pass through it.  And so, I do now, and the day becomes a revelation.

First, I pass through small clouds of Chironomids (non-biting gnats) pulsing up and down over the trail....an expected encounter during ice-out on warming spring days, but not in December.  I notice the joy on passing faces, in appreciation for this unexpected, post-holiday warmth, and turn to see shimmering ribbons of light in the marsh with a muskrat lodge hovering above the twinkles like a mirage.

Once at the river, remnants of pumpkins float by and their orange brilliance stands out against the drab shorelines.  Unusually high water this month, swept them from the lower fields at Hutchins' Farm across the way.  While chuckling at the pumpkins, a rooster's midday crowing catches my ear, followed by another, and then another (in baritone voice) from neighboring farms.

Where I stand, the river's rise has nearly reached the trail's edge, filling the floodplain forest with a rare winter inundation.  Minding my expectations, I'm still hoping that this high water will freeze solid in the coming months to form a "dance floor" through the forest filled with flash frozen treasures and ice skirts around the trees as waters recede.

Moving more deeply into communion with the light, temperature, and gentle breeze of the day, I realize that this a more perfect day for baby spiders to hatch and balloon than we had in all of November.  Sure enough there are shimmering gossamer strands trailing out from the cattail heads and tiny spiders crawling about on their tips.


Crackling sounds from deep within the tangles of cattail stalks along the trail, catch the attention of some visitors passing by.  I point out chickadees who are diligently shredding these dried reeds looking for insect larvae.  In November, they spent more time up in the seed heads, gleening out tiny black seeds while helping to loosen the tension-packed bundles. 

At the far eastern turn in the dike trail, there was a surprising and baffling scene...a beaver-cut branch dangling from a leaning silver maple tree.  Imagine the beaver who climbed this tree, likely at night, to nibble and cut this woody stub five feet above the water's surface!

In my final stretch along the dike trail and through the woods, I enjoy the company of an adult bald eagle.  Bald eagles have been visiting the refuge almost daily this winter, drawn by the presence of many coots who have chosen to stick around this winter.  This hunter made a few circles over the eastern end of the lower impoundment.  Then while I and a visiting couple are walking along the edge trail, the eagle comes in for several close passes over them and then me.  It appears that it is curious about our movements in the woods, and perhaps the bright red coat that the other young woman is wearing.

With my expectations tempered by today's welcome surprises, I return home for the afternoon.  At dusk, while returning some borrowed tables and chairs up the road, I stop by Thoreau's birthplace to enjoy the sight of the waxing moon and wisps of pink clouds hanging over it and to catch the somewhat uncertain call of a white-throated sparrow.

Following the color home, I watch the daylight fade in clarity and color as it began.