Winter Deep and Cold

Mice write on the snow at Nahant MarshAfter a brief January thaw, winter rolled back into Nahant Marsh. February blew in with a major snowstorm followed by more deep, creaking cold. The thick layer of snow, its surface written with the stories of the marsh’s inhabitants, has stayed on, preserved by day after freezing day. The welcome sun has been rising earlier and staying longer, though. The sunny days (the days we had sun anyway) eroded the snow cover to some extent, softening it a bit here and there, only to have the bitter cold freeze it hard again, night after deeply frigid night.

After the snowstorm near Nahant Marsh's beaver pond


Those days when the clouds disappeared were indeed welcome, with skies of wide open blue, unattenuated light pouring down, not soaked in by a single leaf, flooding the land and ice with sun, the snow lit in blazing, blinding white streaked with shadows of blue. And so winter continues.

Before dawn on a sub zero morning at Nahant MarshFebruary in the marsh has been so far a month of deep, harsh winter unrelenting. As always, there is great beauty for those who dare this creaking cold. As the blank cover of snow reflects all the blinding whiteness of full sun, so too does it faithfully show all the colors in the prism tinted light of dawn and dusk.

Coyote's track winds Through Nahant Marsh on a foggy winter morningOn those mornings shrouded with freezing winter fog, that whiteness caught the light too, with whatever color the light happened to be at the moment. The small open pools are steaming again, sometimes in great clouds and sometimes in dainty wisps. Although the deep penetrating cold is hard to bear, I will miss the shifting beauty that only the ice, snow and steam can make on days like these.

Beavers' pond in winter at Nahant Marsh, their home is to the left and center, the dam is bottom center curving to the  rightIt is, after all, approaching the end of February and the light is returning. One day before very much longer, the winter stillness will be broken by the trill of the returning red winged blackbirds. Already black capped chickadees and cardinals, who stay on hanging tough all winter,  are singing to greet the expanding light.

March will be here soon, and while it can still be quite cold and icy, the leading birds of the spring migration arrive in March. They push the edge of the ice, following it as it retreats before the growing light and warmth. The last of the subzero days may have already passed—or most of them anyway. Better bundle up warm and get out there to play in the snow while you can.

A bird hopped up the bank and took to the air, written in the snow


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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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