Preparing For Winter’s End

The hard winter is nearly at an end. The equinox will arrive tomorrow, and the ever stronger light and warmer sun has been melting the deep snow and ice at Nahant Marsh. Winter is still very much present, but the open pools are quite large, and much of the snow has gone.

Mallards still come to the expanding pools of open water. The edge of ice with its frosting of snow is marked with their footprints. Each day I visit the edge has changed, sometimes stretching farther over the surface of the water, sometimes not so far, but always printed by the webbed feet of the tough winter ducks. At first it surprised me to find that these birds stayed, but as the winters have gone by, every one with a large group of mallards making themselves at home in the deep winter at the marsh, I’ve come to expect them there. Almost like old friends, enduring the winter with me.

But winter is nearly done, its silence broken by the red-winged blackbirds announcing its ending. The hang-tough-through-winter birds have been joined by the early arrivals of coming spring. Every year as winter grows old, red-wing blackbirds are always among the first to return, trilling kronk-a-rhee!

Hooded mergansers have also returned to the still-fringed-with-ice waters of the marsh. The nearby river has been host to groups of common mergansers now that the ice has given way—they prefer the deeper water. But the hooded mergansers seem to enjoy the quieter shallower water here. I see them every year, often at winter’s end before spring truly arrives.

I have no doubt they will soon be joined by others following the edge of spring. Tomorrow the light will began its pushing back of the night, slowly, steadily, inexorably. No winter ever lasts. But then, no season ever does.

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Enduring Deepest Winter

Snow and bitter cold slipping down from the northern pole persisted through all of January and into February. The snow that fell before winter even started has stayed. Carried and carved into shapes by the stiff arctic winds, snow lies in layers in the meadows and on the frozen surface of Nahant Marsh.

It has been a winter to remember, as bitterly cold, as snowy, as unrelenting as the harshest of winters gone by. Even so, there are edges of water and ice. The places where water and ice meet are always interesting and changing. I often saw holes punched through the thinner ice, sometimes the center shimmering with reflection on liquid water, sometimes refrozen in thin, clear ice.

Although most of Nahant Marsh is deep frozen, there is open water there and on the nearby Mississippi River. The open water seems to invite birds. The tiny pools at Nahant fill with many ducks, all hanging tough through winter. They apparently have no plan to go farther south.

The larger open places offered on the river have also been hosting ducks and larger birds like geese. Many eagles have gathered along the river this winter, perhaps all the more because it is a hard winter. And, gliding along the edge of the river ice one day in deepest winter, swans.

It seems surprising, and fierce and daring of them, that the creatures can push the edge of the ice as they do. Enduring and waiting for winter to melt away as it surely will. The sun does shine longer and stronger each day. A few birds have already started singing their “welcome back light” songs. No need to go farther south. Midwinter has already passed.

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