Coming of Winter

Still water at Nahant Marsh as autumn endsAutumn lingered long at Nahant Marsh. After the November snow melted away in rain, the rain kept coming well into December. Wave after wave drenched the bare autumn trees and tawny prairie meadows. Thunderstorms worthy of summer rolled through the marsh in December. And the warmth kept it all liquid. Instead of deep snow, flood.

Morning at Nahant Marsh on one of the last days of fallThe ground stayed soft and yielding underfoot. The marsh remained unfrozen, and as the river deepened, so too did the pools and ponds at Nahant. The warm wet days continued for quite a while. Not very cold and no sign of snow. When the sun came out between rainstorms it was balmy and beautiful.

Beaver cut grove at Nahant MarshPerhaps all the good weather for outdoor work days allowed the beavers of Nahant Marsh to really work overtime. Every year, as autumn slides into winter, the beavers get busy. They reinforce their winter lodges and lay a store of food nearby. There’s much work to do in order to have food to last and a cozy place to shelter through a bitter winter. The winter may yet turn hard.

Beavers' pile winter food near their lodge at Nahant MarshThe busy beavers have laid an impressive stack of saplings near their winter shelter. Are they aware of a coming winter that will be so deep and cold once it finally settles in that they knew they’d need all that? Or did all the good weather simply allow them extra time to pile up a bigger stash? Winter will come, and Nahant Marsh’s beavers will be well provisioned.

Cold did roll into the marsh. The rain turned into ice, then became snow. Hard winter winds swept in bitter cold, rattling the empty trees, freezing the water and hardening the earth—the coming of winter.

Snow and ice at Nahant Marsh

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An Autumn Snow

Fresh snow on the vernal pond at Nahant MarshAn autumn storm turned Nahant Marsh into a winter wonderland for a time. Although winter itself is still some ways off, a substantial snow fell in mid November, sticking to the trees and meadows of the marsh in a thick white covering. The warm earth, nowhere near to freezing, stayed soft and yielding under the blanket of deep, powdery snow.

A canada goose stands on the new ice at Nahant MarshThe cold that brought the snow did freeze the surface of the marsh at least thick enough to hold the birds. The geese at the marsh—not as many as earlier in the autumn but still quite a few, stood around on the ice. Some curled up for a rest while their flock mates kept watch. Many gulls rested out in the middle of the ice too.

A November snow lies along a branch melting into iciclesNot all the water was ice, the unfrozen ground and its insulating cover of snow kept watery puddles liquid yet hidden. Just a skim of ice was enough to hold a concealing layer of snow. And the ice where the geese were standing may well have been just thick enough to hold a goose and not much more. It was soft autumn snow and ice, not quite like that of hard, deep winter.

Morning after an autumn snow storm at Nahant MarshThe soft snow and new ice did not last long. The clinging snow slipped from the branches within hours. After only a day or so of temperatures cold enough to keep the snow from melting, late autumn weather resumed—including drenching rains on Thanksgiving Day. All of the snow and ice was washed away.

Nahant Marsh, now in shades of grays and browns, still unfrozen and full of autumn rain, heads day by day into winter. Although the first snow of the season did not last long, no doubt other snows will follow—just in case you missed it—on the long journey to spring.

First edge of morning sun after an autumn snowfall at Nahant Marsh

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