Of Freeze & Thaw

Ducks rest on the ice near sunrise colored water at Nahant MarshJanuary came to Nahant Marsh with bitter cold. The deep freeze 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.

 

Mallards gather in an open pool of water at Nahant Marsh

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.

Open water at the beavers entry to their lodge at Nahant Marsh

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.

Breath bubbles trapped under the ice near the Nahant Marsh beavers food stash

 

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.

Blue shadows streak the snow along where coyote walked through Nahant Marsh

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.

Ducks rest on the ice as a midwinter sun rises

 

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Fade To Gray

Gray morning at the beaver pondAfter the early bitter cold, warmer temperatures came to Nahant Marsh, bringing fog and rain, melting the snow and softening the ice. Nearly all of December passed overcast and gray, with almost no sunshine to cheer the sodden gloom, although the cloudy skies did seem to keep the temperatures warmer.

The beavers' winter homeNahant Marsh’s beaver family used the warmer weather to dredge mud from the bottom of their pond to do a little extra tuck-pointing on their home. Their dwelling looks very much like an untidy pile of branches, and their stash of winter food looks like a pile of cut saplings tossed in the pond.

This beaver pond at Nahant Marsh has the larder on the left and the lodge on the rightBut the industrious beavers  do a remarkable job using available materials. The main house has been refurbished and reused for many seasons. The mud will freeze hard and they always leave a few gaps in the top for ventilation. The beavers are ready for winter.

Bullfrog in Nahant Marsh Education Center is oblivious to the winterThe creatures inside the permanent, artificial summer of Nahant Marsh’s Education Center are oblivious to the winter outdoors. Unlike their wild cousins waiting out the cold in dormancy deep in the mud, or in crevices of sheltering spots they’ve found for themselves, the reptiles and amphibians kept indoors are bright eyed and awake.

Western hognose snake in Nahant Marsh Education CenterThe Education Center has a number of creatures, both common and rare, that can been seen when outdoors is bleak and gray, with little to see except cloudy skies, soggy winter killed plants, and cold mud. The seemingly endless days of drizzling rain and occasional flakes of snow do seem to have ended, however. The skies have cleared—with another blast of arctic cold. Winter, with the passing of the solstice, is here.

It has been a gray December, muddy and sullen. Even the Education Center has been a bit of an untidy mess as the in-full-swing construction of the new expansion has torn up the grounds. Do take care and “pardon their dust” if you come to see those creatures for which winter never arrived. And as the cold hardens the water and earth, remember their wild cousins and the beavers who endure and embrace the winter as best they can.

Nahant Marsh Education Center expansion construction

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