January at Nahant Marsh this year has been cold enough to keep more snow cover and more ice. Although several times it warmed, even rained, there have been more opportunities to read the winter’s news than there was during last year’s unusually balmy winter. I enjoy the marsh in the winter. Snow and ice is beautiful. It is a blank white page that reflects the colors of dawn and dusk, brings contrast and clarity to the bare bones of the trees, and records the passage of every creature that walks by.
I am not particularly literate at reading the news written in the snow, but I do find it fascinating to try. There are always many, many tracks at Nahant Marsh to wonder about. I never see any mice, but little tracks and trails prove they are here. Footprints great and small are evidence of lots of unseen creatures.
Stories can be seen in the footprints. Stories of sinking in the fresh snow, or padding lightly across the surface. Or walking through slushy places even as they stiffen into hard ice that holds in it the mark of bare feet. All of the creatures out there have bare feet, and I don’t suppose they give it a thought. I shiver a little to think of bare feet in the snow, though, and am grateful for my warm boots and wool socks. Some tracks tell the journey taken by a coyote—perhaps more a daily route than a journey, as old tracks accompany new ones. Coyote making its rounds?
It is easy to see where a deer crossed the meadow, where a rabbit sat to nibble a bit of bark, where raccoons have a favorite path to travel, and where a bird came down to hop about a bit before heading back into the air. Sometimes it’s not too clear who the maker of the tracks might have been. A teeny tiny bear? Not too likely. An otter or mink? Perhaps.
A few days of warmth have taken away the snow and softened the ice, but winter is not done yet and there are rumors of more snow to come. Let it come.
Every time I have an opportunity to read the winter news I marvel at it. It’s like getting a surreptitious peak into the secret life of the creatures that make Nahant Marsh their home.
Winter is a quiet time, but there is life in the marsh even so. Winter is harsh and unforgiving, but life endures. Much that was beautiful is gone, dead or dormant. Yet winter is breathtakingly beautiful, surprisingly interesting, and livelier than you might think.
The next time is snows, be sure to check out the news.