The snow and the ice has lasted this winter at Nahant Marsh. So different than last winter’s scant snow and open water. The snow is lovely and sculptural, taking on strange forms built by wind, sun and the rising and falling of the temperature. The snow sculptures are transient, changing things, and most will be gone before anyone other than the marsh creatures see them.
Some mallard ducks never did abandon the marsh for winter, and seem to be quite happy hanging around the small ice free areas. Perhaps they are more northern ducks “down south” for the season, but since they look the same as the mallards I see at Nahant year round, I cannot tell.
It’s nice to see them, though, in pools slightly steaming in the cold, and to hear them quietly talking amongst themselves. The fact that there are a few open water areas, with edges of very thin, very delicate ice illustrates just how treacherous the ice can be. The ice cannot be trusted, and I am wary of it.
The otters fear no thin ice. Unlike me, they seem to enjoy crashing through into the cold water underneath. I have not seen the otters at the marsh since late summer, but clearly they were here. The marks written in the snow of the bank describe how they slid down the hill and out onto the ice to crash through.
One morning several winters ago I was lucky enough to watch an otter play for nearly ten minutes by one of the open pools steaming in the bitter cold. The otter would dive and surface from under the thin ice ringing the edge of the pool, crashing up through it with a sound like thin glass breaking. It is a rare treat to see an otter, and this winter I haven’t been as lucky. But thanks to the snow, I know they’ve been by. Only the otter writes double dot, double dot, dash in the snow. The pattern of its belly slides makes me think of children sliding on the ice. I smile to see all the otter tracks at Nahant Marsh. It’s easy to imagine the otters running playfully through the snow. Without any snow to record their passage, it would be easy to never even know otters were there.
There will not be snow for too much longer. The sun rises earlier, sets later, and its light grows stronger and more direct every day. Already the cardinals are singing their Spring Is Coming song, and hooded mergansers are on the river.
There may be another snow, but spring is nearly here. There will certainly be more ice and frost, but not to stay. Listen carefully, the trill of the red-winged blackbird will no doubt be heard any day now, and that will be the sound of winter’s ending.