January came to Nahant Marsh with bitter cold. The water hardened the ice and the frost reached deep into the earth. The coldest air of the season rolled in, plunging temperatures well below zero, and the stiff wind made being outdoors dangerous for the unprepared.
Still, the creatures of the marsh go about their business apparently unconcerned. As in every winter, flocks of ducks have come to the small pools found here. The pools grow ever smaller as the cold sinks in, but they do not entirely freeze over—especially with dozens of ducks moving about on their surfaces, dabbling, bathing, coming and going.
The comings and goings of the beaver family keep their doorway free from ice as well. Their entryway will be the last to freeze—perhaps with only a thin veneer of ice. It is not always easy to tell just how thick the ice is in any given place. The ice can be treacherous.
I don’t know what the beavers think of the ice, or how thick it must be before it becomes a barrier to them. I see trails of breath bubbles frozen in mid rise, locked in place, along the underwater paths that the beavers take. It is surreal art, never the same in any winter. The ice does have a beauty that could never be found without the winter weather. Those that go out into the harshness of the bitter, squeaking cold find a world transformed.
The once green leafy woods are stripped to their essential elements. The once lush prairie and marsh plants are skeletal and sculptural, catching snow and hosting frost. The snow, itself sculptural and sculpted, reflects innumerable sparkles of light. The deeper the cold, the more the open water steams to frost the surroundings.
The intense cold has eased into a January thaw, melting much of the snow and shutting off the clouds of stream from the open pools. But there is more snow in the forecast—it is still midwinter. Enjoy the changed world that winter brings while the freezes last. It is a transient beauty unlike any other time.