Land Journal: January 2012

Every morning when I am at home I get up shortly before sunrise and spend a little while outside, watching the sun come up and the new day come alive. I walk the 400 feet up to a small pond and go for a swim. When I get back inside I write in what I call my "Pond Journal" a little about what I saw, heard and felt. I decided to put that journal up here to share with a wider world what I have written since I see this, like photograpy, as a way of bringing back a record of my observations of the natural world.

On August 26 I moved from Worthington, Massachusetts to Foster, Rhode Island. I continue to write but my writing has taken a different direction, less condusive to daily posts. So, for now I am closing the Pond Journal, leaving it as a story of my time in Worthington. Stay tuned for new directions in the future.

January 31, 2012: Still Morning

A still morning. Gray clouds overlaid on more gray clouds fill the sky, drifting slowly off to the east-southeast. An upper layer of clouds shows just a hint of color off to the east at around sunrise. Birds calling all around, a chickadee, blue jays, and other birds I can’t identify. A woodpecker drums away in the distance. Later the crows join in, one giving his loud and raucous call as he flies across the field and others joining in on the call. Down in the valley I can hear the river rushing by. A dusting of snow fell last night so the animal tracks are easy to pick out; a record of the early morning ramblings of fox, mouse and rabbit. It looks like maybe a fox was digging into a brush pile, possibly trying to dig out a mouse. At the pond, a piece of ice I stood on edge near my hole now has holes going all the way through it. One warm day and it will probably largely be gone. But the water is still cold and black and the ice over the pond feels like it is at least 5 or 6 inches thick.

January 30, 2012: Windblown Snow

Light snow falling out of a nearly clear sky, flying across the field almost horizontal in the face of a roaring west wind that also sends the already fallen snow racing across the ground and then swirling back up into the air in diaphanous clouds that soar and roll and then vanish into the air. Two birds brave the passage across the field, getting tossed about by the wind as they go. A fox comes trotting by, his coat glowing red. Clouds flying across the blue sky, turning from gray to peach as the sun works its way up past thicker clouds on the eastern horizon. When the sun finally does break through the clouds all around it turn a brilliant gold, as if the sun has set fire to the sky. The light comes pouring through the trees, bring warmth to the cold. There is an inch of ice on hole in the pond. Despite the sun, it is still very much winter. Low down in the forest, where there is some shelter from the wind, each tree branch is picked out with fresh, white snow.

January 29, 2012: Memories

Hard, crunchy snow underfoot. Clear blue sky overhead. Just a few clouds off to the north. Black pines silhouetted against the blue sky. Dead grass and plant stalks rattling in the cold northwest wind. An owl calling off in the distance. A bright orange sun slipping up over the horizon. Blue jays flying across the field one by one. One comes in low, right at me and then veers off. Another comes from behind and lands on the compost bin with a clatter and then takes off again as soon as I turn to look at it. Another flies high across the sky, lit from below by the sun. Streaks of wind blown snow on the surface of the pond. Half an inch of fresh, hard ice over the hole in the pond. Then after some work, a hole filled with black water and broken chunks of clear crystalline ice.

January 28, 2012: Sun

After what seems like a long run of cloudy mornings it was lovely to watch the sun creep up over the horizon and come shining through the trees. The sun has moved a lot further north at sunrise than where it was a month ago. There are lots of clouds in the sky this morning but there is also lots of blue. Some of the clouds are tiny and puffy and clustered together like gravel on a beach, others are thinner and wispier. A few are just tiny isolated wisps of clouds. But all are small and all are drifting to the east, riding along on a cold northwest wind that is flowing across the hills this morning, pouring though the trees and setting the branches to waving against the sky. The dead grass sticking up through the snow and moving in the wind has a particularly wintery feel. The sun shines brightly off the hard, icy snow. At the pond, the ice in my hole has grown more complicated. Since I keep breaking the ice and then leaving lots of ice chunks floating in the hole where they get frozen back in place, the ice is very variable in thickness. Standing in the hole I can pick up the pieces and feel the soft rounded lumps of older ice chunks frozen into the new ice and see the beautiful fine bubble patterns that trace through the ice and reveal the boundaries between old and new, but I can’t hold the ice for long because it is all cold!

January 27, 2012: Ice Storm

Rain falling on the snow makes a funny sort of crackling sound. Falling on the trees the rain is turning into a layer of ice. From a distance the stands of deciduous trees are the color of dull silver. Seen close up the effect is more magical, if very hard on the trees. Each branch is picked out in shining white, as if encased in glass. Even the beech leaves are hard and solid-feeling, with a tiny icicle hanging down from the tip of each leaf. They look like some sort of tasty confection. The pines show the weight more than the other trees, the boughs bent down to the ground, each needle weighted down under a coating of ice. My hole in the ice on the pond is covered with a quarter inch of rough ice, covered with another quarter inch of slush, covered with a half in inch of liquid water, dappled with raindrops. The birds are still chattering away this morning but they seem to be staying more under cover, tucked in under the tree branches to stay out of the cold rain. Off in the valley I can hear the river rushing by, carrying away the rain water.

January 25, 2012: The Return of Cold Weather

It is down below freezing again, not by much, but enough so the snow is hard and crunchy underfoot. A cold northwest wind is blowing through the trees and across the field, sending a gray ceiling of clouds sliding by overhead. When gusts blow through the dead stalks in the field or through the dry beech leaves on the trees, it sounds like a gentle rain falling. The birds seem to be hanging out in flocks this morning. First I hear one flock twittering back and forth to each other somewhere off in the distance. Then, as I am walking to the pond, a whole flock of robins flies towards me and lands in a tree near the path. A few stragglers drift in over time and then all at once most of them fly to another tree over towards the end of the pond. An eighth inch of clear hard ice has formed over my hole. Looking down through I see the salamander again briefly. Larger chunks of ice that I had taken out of the hole and placed on the ice in days past have changed quite a bit with the warm weather. The edges have been softened and rounded over but the internal structure has changed as well, going from clear and transparent to lots of little crystals that break up the light. When I step into the hole, the ice breaks beneath my feet letting me into the cold water below. The broken ice looks black against the dark water below, but light when I hold it up and look through it. There are lots of tiny, tiny air bubbles in the ice, little white dots encased in the clear shining ice.

January 24, 2012: Moisture

The sky is clearing overhead, gray clouds sliding across a blue sky, slipping low over the hilltop and heading off to the east where there is still a thick bank of clouds. Melting snow has filled the air with moisture, creating clouds of mist hanging just above the ground. The mist seems to collect most in low areas such as above the pond, and then it sends occasional outliers sliding across the crest of the field and on towards the valley beyond. The trees are dark from the rain that fell last night and three birches stand out sharply against the dark background of wet pines. Each birch has its own slightly different shape, clearly visible now against the dark forest beyond. Seen close up the wetness brings out the colors in the forest, the green moss on the trees, the browns of the beech leaves, and even the dark browns of the tree trunks. At the tip of every needle on a small pine tree near my path is a drop of water. The pond is not even frozen over. It had a thin skim of ice on it last night at sunset but that is gone this morning. Just before I ease myself into the hole a salamander comes up to the surface briefly and then swims back down into the black water below. 40 minutes after sunrise the sun finally climbs up over the cloud bank and brings a blaze of glory to the morning.

January 23, 2012: Mist

There is a very light rain falling, or maybe just a heavy mist. The old sunflower stalks and other dead plants sticking up through the snow near me are clear and sharp but everything further away is a bit soft around the edges. The next ridge to the east is a darker shade of gray next to the pale gray of the sky. A mouse living in the compost pile pokes his head up briefly to look at me. Then a blue jay flies over and lands on the compost bin, just a few feet from me. His feet are loud on the wood. He doesn’t stay for long. There are lots of birds around this morning, and also lots of tracks in the snow: fox, mice, birds and probably others that I can’t make out. Off in the distance I hear the faint drum of a woodpecker, then silence.

January 20, 2012: Glorious Dawn

A glorious morning! I watch the last stars slowly, slowly fade away in the west as the dawn creeps across the deep blue sky. The crescent moon is low in the south, not far above the trees. I can just make out the full circle of the moon, with the brightly lit crescent wrapped around the east side, facing the sun that is still below the horizon as if beckoning it up into the sky. Silence. Then a few quiet bird calls. A gust of wind blows through the trees, sending fresh snow skating across the packed and drifted snow surface on the field. A couple of inches of snow fell last night so the trees are once again frosted in white. The pond water is as cold as ever and the ice as beautiful as ever. The clouds overhead glow a glorious peach-pink as the sun finally climbs over the horizon and the day begins.

January 19, 2012: Clouds and Sounds

High wispy, feathery clouds stretch across the southern and eastern sky, gray in the early morning light. As the sun gets closer to rising the clouds reveal themselves to be in two layers as the higher layer turns peach colored while the lower, in front, stays gray much longer, waiting for the sun to rise far enough to reach their level. One band of clouds looks like wet hair carefully combed back, another area is messier, like the waves and feathers of the northern lights, but in gray clouds. In the cold, still air sounds seem to carry a long ways. An owl or maybe two hoot off to the west, then a woodpecker starts his drumming. Later a crow flies by in the east, cawing, and a group of small birds raise quite a racket in the bushes near the house. The snow underfoot is so hard I can sometimes walk on it without even breaking through, but usually each footstep breaks through with a loud, harsh crunching sound. Almost two inches of fresh ice has formed over my hole in the pond and within a minute of re-opening the hole I can already see thin feathery crystals starting to form on the water's surface.

January 18, 2012: Wind

Listening to the wind roaring through the trees. I can hear the gusts moving across the landscape, setting whole trees into motion as they pass, the bare branches swaying back and forth against the sky, and then passing off into the distance and leaving the branches still again until the next gust. Watching the morning come alive. Gray, pre-dawn clouds turn orange, then yellow, then white along their eastern edges as the sun comes up. Trees lit up with a golden light when the sun can sneak through the clouds. Dry bits of grass and leaves skittering across the icy snow. Even in the woods the dead beech leaves are shaking and rattling against each other. Even amidst the noise of the wind I can still pick up occasional bird calls and one wind-tossed bird goes racing across the sky, half flying and half being blown downwind across the field. High above all of this the crescent moon shines quietly in the morning sky.

January 17, 2012: Fresh Snow

A couple of inches of soft, light snow fell overnight, giving a "winter wonderland" feeling to the morning. The dark boughs of the pines and hemlocks are gently coated in white, giving texture to the dark mass of trees along the edge of the field and around the pond. On the deciduous trees each branch has a line of white atop it, like a shadow in reverse: light and on top where a shadow is dark and on the underside. The surface of the pond is perfectly smooth and white. Around the edge the dry, brittle cattails poke up through, most bent and broken but a few still standing tall with a fraying catkin on top. Lots of different birds are calling this morning but they seem to be taking it in turns, each call coming from a different direction, some close by and some further off into the woods. It is much, much warmer this morning than it was yesterday. Today it is barely below freezing, and the sky is cloudy and gray.

January 16, 2012: Cold, Stillness and Movement

Black trees silhouetted against the morning sky: the pines and hemlocks dense and dark, the deciduous trees with their fine tracery of bare branches held up to the sky. The wind has formed the snow into waves, rolling across the field, frozen into stillness by the cold. There are more birds calling this morning, even thought it is as cold this morning that it was yesterday morning. -4°F (-20°C) by the thermometer. The only hint of a breeze comes from my breath being carried away towards the east and southeast, hinting at the slightest of breezes from the west or northwest. The cold is penetrating. Again my hole in the pond is covered by two inches of fresh, clear ice. I put two pieces up on top of the ice next to the hole so I can enjoy their transparent beauty. Looking up at the hole from underwater the surface shimmers and moves, ice chunks floating in the water, the surface of the water silvery and slightly reflective with the blue of the sky beyond.

January 15, 2012: Cold

Waiting for the sun to creep up over the horizon, into the cold, deep blue winter sky. First the eastern horizon starts to glow orange, then at one spot the orange gets brighter and brighter until the first rays sneak over the edge and come shooting through the trees. Listening to the trees crack in the cold and the gentle but chilling northwest wind moving through the forest. At first I only hear one bird this morning, calling repetitively. Then a squirrel joins in, but still the animals feel subdued by the cold. A fox ran across the field yesterday and his paw prints are now raised up. The light snow around the prints has been blown away by the wind. Small drifts have formed in the field as the wind has shaped and gathered the snow. The look of the windblown snow strengthens the feeling of winter cold. In just 24 hours two inches of clear, crystalline ice formed over my hole in the pond. Re-opening the hole reveals deep, black water under the ice, in sharp contrast to the white snow that covers the rest of the pond as well as the forest floor, erasing the border between pond and forest.

January 14, 2012: Snowing lightly

It’s snowing lightly. Sometimes the flakes come floating gently down, each going in a slightly different direction as they dance and drift towards then ground, and then a gust of wind comes along and they are all racing together, flying horizontally across the field towards the woods. The wind comes and goes. At times it is all around me and at times I just hear it far off in the forest in one direction or another, like I’m in the middle of an island with the surf rolling up on the shore, sometimes on one side and sometimes on another. In the field small birds, juncos I think, are busy finding food on the dead plant stalks sticking up through the snow. They find seeds and other things to eat, leaving a scattering of dark husks and other debris on the ground below. High in the sky the half moon glows white, until clouds move in and hide it and the snow starts to come down harder. Tracks in the snow record the passing of small creatures in the night. One might have been a fox. Another was probably a mouse, popping up out of a hole to run across the snow.

January 13, 2012: Misty Morning

Mist sliding across the field, growing so thick at times that it hides the line of trees at the top of the field and almost looks ready to hide the tops of the big maples. The sound of water dripping off the roof of the barn and off the tree branches. A light, misty rain falling at times. What at first look to be drops of water hanging down from the branches of the walnut tree turns out to be ice, with just a little water on the surface. Walking to the pond, every tree branch is encased in a thin layer of ice, like they have been dipped in glass. Low bushes covered in burrs look like a big winter sundews. The needles on a small pine tree glisten in their frosty coating and the wet brown leaves of the beeches look especially warm and bright amidst the gray and damp. The snow on the surface of the pond is so saturated that some sections have become smooth, like the surface of a puddle. Even larger "drain holes" have formed in the ice and the water under the ice is a deep dark black. The world feels nestled close around me.

January 12, 2012: Snow!

Even though I’ve seen it many times, it’s still amazing to go to bed to bare ground and wake up to a white, snow-covered world outside. It’s wet snow, now changing to sleet, so the trees are cloaked in white, the branches bent down under the weight. The wind is pouring though the trees, occasionally picking snow back up off the branches and sending it swirling through the air out over the pond. The beauty of it strengthens my feeling of connection to this little corner of the world that surrounds me at this moment. The falling snow draws the world in closer; no long vistas of the rising sun this morning. Instead I have a world that feels more tucked in around me.

The sleet makes a fine, slightly hard-edged sound as it hits the trees and the ground. The surface of the pond is covered with snow. Large areas are quite saturated with water pushed up onto the ice by the weight of the snow pushing down. I am witnessing the formation of what I have always called “drain holes,” meaning holes in the ice with something that looks like a drainage network radiating out from the hole, except that it does not really make sense that these are drainage holes when water is moving up through them onto the ice rather than down the other way. So, I am not sure what creates the drainage network-like pattern around these holes. Maybe cracks radiating out from the holes and allowing water up along the cracks, or water flowing out from the holes and concentrating along certain routes?

Even amidst this sleet and snow I still see birds flying from tree to tree, and the blue jays are as noisy as ever. Many of the other birds seem quieter, or their calls are just getting lost in the noise of the wind and snow and sleet.

January 11, 2012:

The clouds in the east are stretched out in long lines across the sky like waves in a vast celestial pond, lit up in pink from the underside by the rising sun. To the west the setting moon floats in the deep blue sky just above the trees, glowing a brilliant white as it reflects the same sunlight back at us across 250 thousand miles of space. In the still morning air each bird sounds its own note like musicians in some grand orchestra. The ice in the pond is like bits of old window glass this morning, but thicker than window glass would ever have been. Coming back from the pond the waves in the sky have been replaced by the waves of the land, with just the crests of the waves, the highest ridges, lit by the newly risen sun.

January 10, 2012:

Another still morning, good for hearing the sounds of the world. The calls of small birds all around, carrying through the forest and across the field, and then a great horned owl called, sounding quite close, over near the pond, a deep, resonant, powerful call. Waiting for the sun to rise, feeling my connection to the earth coming up through my feet and feeling that connection radiating out to the world all around me. Just enough clouds in the sky to create a beautiful sunrise of pinks fading to oranges. Watched the first rays of the sun slip over the horizon and come shooting through the trees. Then over to the pond for my quick dip. Standing in the water I held up a chunk of broken ice and felt like I was holding some rare and precious jewel, clear as glass with beautiful cracks running through it; but a jewel that could not be held onto for long before its coldness forced me to return it to the water from whence it came.

January 9, 2012:

A still, cloudy morning. There is just a single layer of clouds overhead with small patches of blue in various places, but the there is no edge to the clouds that I can see, they span from horizon to horizon. About 10 minutes before sunrise the sun found a window to shine through and light up the underside of the clouds in pink, but at the actual sunrise the sun was hidden in the clouds. Looking up carefully I can see the clouds slowing drifting to the southeast but there is no wind that I can feel down here at ground level. At first I have to listen carefully to hear any birds this morning but then things start to liven up. First a squirrel gets going with his angry, excited chirring. Then just after I get out of the water after taking my morning dip a blue jay flies south over the pond giving his lively call, as if to comment on my sanity. On my way back from the pond I hear the ringing sound of a woodpecker looking for his breakfast. The sound carries across the landscape like some beautiful bell ringing in the woods.

January 8, 2012:

A northwest wind is roaring through the trees. It sounds like surf crashing on a distant beach. The birds are hunkered down more and not making as much noise as yesterday. I startled a flock up from the ground near the pond. About five minutes before the sun rose it lit up the underside of the clouds with a beautiful pink glow and then, once it came up, shot under the clouds and set the big maples to glowing as if with an inner fire against the blue-gray clouds beyond. The ice on the pond is quite rough after yesterday's absurdly warm weather, by there was still a layer of fresh, hard ice over my hole, maybe around 1/4" thick but it was a little hard to tell because of the ice chunks frozen into the new ice. The sun is going in and out from behind the clouds as the wind continues to send the clouds racing across the sky.

January 7, 2012:

I was welcomed this morning by the call of one of my favorite birds, a white throated sparrow. I associate white throats with the glorious mountaintops in the Whites Mountains. Then, a little while later, I heard a barred owl off in the woods. A good morning for birds! The sky is nearly cloudless this morning but there were a few clouds low in the southeast so I was not sure if I would be able to see the sunrise, but the sun found a gap to peak through just as it crept over the horizon. There was a light frost last night but the temperature barely dropped below freezing overnight and yesterday it was well above freezing for most of the day. So, the ice on the pond has taken on the surface texture of early spring ice, meaning it is a bit bumpy and slightly softer. My hole was frozen over, but not heavily.

January 6, 2012:

At first it looked mostly cloudy this morning but as it got lighter out and as the clouds shifted, more and more blue sky appeared. What was at first just a gap in the clouds became bigger and bigger areas where the sky was more blue than cloudy. The cloud patterns are complex with a dense layer of clouds off to the east, some "mackerel sky" in other areas, and lots of cirrus and other high, thin clouds around. Just before sunrise there was a brief period when the clouds in the east were lit by a pink glow from below, and around sunrise there were spots where the there was a brighter pink-orange glow down near the horizon in the area where the sun rises, but it was not until this moment as I type this back at my desk, that the sun finally crept up over the clouds, 45 minutes after "sunrise." Lots of birds are out and about this morning. A group of small birds flying through the brush near the pond with their short, quick, light movements. Blue jays about, as always. A woodpecker drumming on a tree near the pond. The pond is white with a dusting of snow that fell yesterday and it seems like a very little bit more snow fell during the night because as of yesterday evening large parts of the pond had been blown clear of snow but this morning those areas have a thin "wash" of snow over them.

January 5, 2012:

A still, cloudy morning. There were a few streaks of brighter light off in the east around sunrise but otherwise dense gray clouds cover the sky from horizon to horizon. There is no hint of wind but there is more animal noise this morning than there has been in recent mornings. A crow calls repeatedly down near the blueberry field and then flies almost right over me and over the pond, heading south. I can see the distinct feathers at the ends of his wings as he goes by. A squirrel make his chirring noise briefly off in the woods and I can hear various small birds making noises around and about. On my way back to the house I distribute a small flock of sparrows or something similar that were tucked away in a bush in the yard. The ice on much of the pond is now a good two inches thick, quick thick enough for skating, as a proved yesterday. The former hole in front of the cabin is probably thick enough to skate on now too but that needs more checking. Its almost 10 degrees C warmer than it was yesterday at this time.

January 4, 2012:

The birds seem much more subdued with the arrival of real winter. While waiting for the sun to rise the dominant sound was the quiet rustling of the dead grasses in the breeze and further away the quiet stirring of the wind in the trees. There were occasional soft calls from a few birds but nothing like what it was even a month ago. The squirrels still let fly with their chirring every once in while and as I was walking back to the house a blue jay's piercing cry rended the cold morning air. A northwest wind continues to blow, bringing yet colder air. The wind carries a quiet but overwhelming power. Its soft air currents have enveloped the land in a deep cold. The thermometer reads -14C (7F) this morning. The big news that results from this cold is that the ice on the pond is bearing! I did not check the area that was still open just yesterday and is now frozen over in front of the cabin but I walked across the pond near the north end after taking a quick dip. Even in the area where I had opened up a hole yesterday there was an inch of fresh ice to chop through. There were no clouds on the eastern horizon this morning so there was very little preamble to the sunrise, just a slight glow in one little area for a few moments before the glowing sun started peeking over the horizon. There are some high thin clouds up overhead, presaging a change in the weather.

January 3, 2012:

Snow starts falling a few minutes before sunrise; first just a few flakes and then for a minute or two the sky seems to be filled with falling snow, but it is not enough to hide the clouds to the east glowing pink and then orange as the sun comes up. The surface of the pond is white with a light coating of snow that fell overnight but there is a deep black circle of open water in front of the cabin. It can't stay open for long. A west northwest wind continues to sweep cold air over land. Even where I had chopped a hole in the ice yesterday the ice is already thick enough to be hard to break through with a splitting maul. My dip in the pond is short! The ice filled water is cold. By the time I get back to the house the snow has stopped and the sky is clear again.

January 2, 2012:

A new year has begun! It is just above freezing this morning; rather warm for the second of January but the wind is building out of the west northwest, bringing colder air flowing in across the land. The sun just peeked under the clouds at sunrise lighting up only the lowest edges of the clouds overhead, creating bands of light that were subtle but a bit odd looking until I realized what was going on. A large hole has opened up in the ice on the pond, reaching out from the shore in front of the cabin. At the end of the dock there is ice but it is only ? inch thick and not that strong, so it is easy to make a hole. The surface of the ice all across the pond is covered with a tracery of groves, rather like the grooves wood-eating insects leave under the bark of a rotting tree. I am not sure what causes the groves in the ice. There is no sign of the hole I made in the ice back before Christmas. I suspect that at some point in the last ten days the pond was completely ice-free. At the pond I saw exactly three snowflakes fall out of the sky. One came sailing right at my face and just slid by me on the right at the last minute. It was not until I saw another flake a few minutes later that I realized what the first flake had been.

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