Land Journal: December 2011

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.

December 22, 2011:

Today is the winter solstice and the wind is pouring down out of the northwest, sending clouds racing across the sky. The layer of clouds overhead is nearly continuous but a few blue holes fly by, suggesting that we may get more sun later. From a distance it looked like all the ice had melted off the pond but when I got closer I realized that there was still a thin thin layer of ice over the pond, wet on the top from last night's rain and with holes going right through it. As I moved in my swimming hole I could hear the ice crackling. The sound carried right down the pond away from me and by jumping up and down in my hole I could create visible waves in the ice that carried right across the pond. The wet surface of the ice reflects the trees and bushes around the pond, picking up the subtle colors and textures of the winter landscape. A slightly warmer-toned brown bush jumps out against the cooler grays and browns around it in a quiet way that would be quite lost amidst the summer's riot of colors.

December 21, 2011:

Even on the grayest of days there is usually at least a bit of texture to the clouds overhead, but today the sky is very nearly a uniform shade of gray from horizon to horizon. There is no hint of any extra brightness off to the east at sunrise so there are probably multiple layers of clouds between us and the sun. The ice on the pond has changed a bit. The crystal structure has smoothed out but this morning there are sand grain size ice pellets evenly scattered across the surface. I can push them around with my fingers so I am guessing they fell out of the sky as "frozen ice pellets" or something similar. My hole had skimmed over with ice but it was only 1/8" thick so I stepped right down through it for my morning dip in the pond. There are not many birds flying around yet this morning but I can still hear various calls coming from their hiding spots. The Winter Solstice is one day away. At 30 minutes after midnight tonight the sun will start moving north again, or more properly the tip of the earth will start bringing the sun back up to the north.

December 20, 2011:

It appears I spoke too soon yesterday. A bit of work during the day yesterday with my ice testing pole opened up a hole in the ice and since it just barely dropped to freezing last night the hole was just in the process of freezing over at sunrise. So, my morning dips in the big pond continue! Thin feathery ice crystals were just forming between the larger chunks of ice in the hole. Overhead the clouds appeared to be moving in multiple directions but the wind down at my level was blowing out of the northwest with enough vigor to shake the beach leaves so they made a dry, rustling sound, and in the stronger gusts set the pine trees to sighing. It feels like maybe a frontal boundary is just passing because the sky to the south is quite cloudy while to the north it is mostly clear.

December 19, 2011:

Unless we get an extended warm spell swimming in the big pond is over for the year. The pond is covered with almost an inch of hard, black ice! The ice acts as a beautiful window near the shore. Every detail of the leaves and plants underwater is wonderfully visible. Looking across the pond, the trees are reflected in the ice, their lines slightly broken up by the irregularities in the ice. The small pond has not yet frozen over. It stays open longer because of the steady flow of water into it. There is a rim of ice around much of the edge but it was easy to find a way in to take a quick dip. Swimming in the small pond took me back to when I first came to this land, since that was the first swimming spot I found. The blazing sun is visible through the trees from the small pond, slowly creeping up into the cold morning sky.

December 18, 2011:

Cold! The thermometer reads -10C (14F) this morning. A clear blue sky holds the cold white half moon high up overhead. The sun comes up in a blaze of glory first shinning through the trees and then rising above them, warming the cold winter landscape. The first rays of the newly risen sun light a flock of small birds from below. The hammering of a woodpecker resounds in the morning air. The ice on the pond is 5/8" thick and covered with white spots, a record of the very light snow we got yesterday; one spot for each snowflake. Cracking the ice on the pond to make a hole takes some work. The ice is clear and hard; beautiful black ice. Looked at from below it shows up as just a slightly reflective surface, somehow different from the way the surface reflects from below in the summer, maybe a bit more translucent and, of course, frozen into motionless. The water running out over the ice melts the white spots but it will all freeze again quickly.

December 17, 2011:

Pink clouds in the east just before sunrise. Three flocks of small birds flew across the field, black against the clouds. The sound of the wings of the second two flocks seemed unusually loud. In the third flock one bird was calling gently as it flew across the field. A few flakes of snow falling. Occasional puffs of cold wind from the northwest. Unlike yesterday, the wind just sighed in the trees when it blew hard enough to make any sound at all. 1/8 inch of ice all the way across the pond; so thin I could step right down through it. Beautiful crystal structures everywhere, some as much as 18 inches across; rays and ripples and smooth "plates." I felt sad to break even a small part of the beautiful ice but it also felt great to immerse myself in the cold water. The ice will be back soon.

December 16, 2011:

The wind is pouring across the land this morning, howling through the trees in the stronger gusts and bringing in cold air from the northwest. Small and sometimes large clouds are racing across the sky. At sunrise the sky overhead is clear and a top of a bank of clouds to the north is glowing pink. A little later the sky to the north has gone dark gray but the maples are glowing in the morning sun, brilliant against the gray clouds. The ice is gone from the pond except far down at the south end where a little remains. It will be back soon. For today, however, I can once again dive into the pond rather than slipping through a hole in the ice.

December 15, 2011:

Low, heavy clouds leave no window for the sun to peak through today. The clouds look to be just a few hundred feet up and they are flowing across the sky, coming up from the south southwest, bringing moisture from the ocean. A light rain is falling that grows a little heavier while I am outside. Not much rain fell overnight because there are still a few small patches of snow left from the tail end of the storm almost a week ago. The pond is still iced over but there are many openings, especially near the shore, and the ice is so thin that it ripples when I tap on it. Pushing down gently on the ice also reveals numerous tiny holes that the water comes up through as the ice moves. If we get much rain today I expect all of the ice will melt but it will be back soon. I watch a bird fly across the pond and it looks like it closes its wings and shoots through the sky like a little feathered football for long stretches, but my eyes could be tricking me.

December 14, 2011:

Clouds have filled the sky overnight but not so thickly that the sun can't peak through with a bright orange glow at sunrise before disappearing into thicker clouds, and not so thick that I can't pick out narrow veins of blue peaking though the clouds overhead. Only 1/8" of ice has formed over my hole in the pond so it was easy to break though this morning. From under the water the ice looks white. From above it still looks quite black except where there are white bubbles. Close to my hole the bubbles move and flow under the ice after I duck under water and come back up. A flock of small birds flying across the sky looks like a cluster of leaves being tossed and turned in a gale.

December 13, 2011:

There are a few clouds around this morning but most of the sky is still clear and the 3/4 moon hangs cold and bright above the trees at sunrise. Why is it that the moon looks colder in the winter? There is 1/4" of fresh ice over my hole in the pond and the bits of broken ice tinkle together beautifully as I slide my body down through the hole into the pond. Dunking underwater I could see the ice from below, and then looking down again from above I watched a bubble move from under the ice to the hole. Walking back to the house I watched a small bird go swooping across the morning sky.

December 12, 2011:

Another clear cold morning. The sun comes up in a blaze of orange, lighting up the tops of the trees as the just past full moon is setting into the trees. The ice on the pond does not seem to be that much thicker than yesterday but big white bubbles have started forming under the ice where air is bubbling up from the bottom. There are lots of small birds in the trees and bushes around the pond this morning. Nothing loud like crows or bluejays, just the quieter birds this morning making soft calls to each other.

December 11, 2011:

Cold and clear! The pond is covered with 3/8" of ice this morning. The great crystals that have come together to form the ice make a rough surface. Over time, with continued cold weather and lack of snow this will somehow convert to a surface so smooth it might have been polished, but now the crystal boundaries are still visible. With some work I manage to break through the ice with my heel so I can take a quick dip. Looking down though the ice, everything below, what's left of the green plants of summer as well as the branches and leaves that have fallen into the pond, while still in liquid water look frozen into stillness; set in place for the cold winter months. On my way back to the house, standing in the sun, I watch a crow fly up and land on the topmost branch of one of the trees overlooking the pond, from where he welcomes the day with his raucous calls, while much smaller birds call to each other as the hop from branch to branch in the small tree in the dooryard.

December 10, 2011:

I felt like I was present at the creation this morning; the creation of the ice that will soon cover the pond for the winter. The surface of the pond was covered with ice crystals that at least near the dock had not yet fully joined to each other but that were slowly spreading to cover the surface of the pond. Some were big discs of ice, others just crosses of ice; crystals in formation. Another cold night and the pond will be covered with a solid layer of ice. This morning I could still easily take a quick dip in the pond, simple stepping down through the ice. The ice was so thin that I could dive in too and come up and just barely feel the ice pushing out of the way.

December 9, 2011:

The ground is white from the snow that fell after the rain storm the night before last, and I can feel the cold air flowing past me as I stand still watching for the sunrise. A thin skim of ice has formed on some of the shallower parts of the pond overnight. The tree branches down at the south end of the pond are picked out with white. The big maples glow in the morning sun.

December 7, 2011:

The world feels a bit subdued this morning. A very light rain slowly starts and becomes a somewhat heavier rain, hissing faintly on the surface of the pond, and then fades back to nearly nothing again. There's not even a hint of any wind; the dead cattails stand completely motionless around the edge of the pond. The individual bird calls stand out in the still air. I keep trying to find a way to describe the sound rain makes when it's falling in the woods. It's such a distinctive but familiar sound. "Pattering" sounds to light but it is far from "drumming." Heavy drops falling off branches and landing on the dead leaves on the ground.

December 6, 2011:

A fine heavy rain is falling this morning. In the field and over the pond the rain drops are tiny and leave small, fast circles on the water's surfacing, making just a faint sound. In the woods the noise is much louder as big drops come down from the branches above and patter on the leaves on the forest floor. Every branch has big drops of glistening water hanging off it and there are tiny droplets at the end of the needles on a small pine tree by the path. I can see small waves of rain moving across the surface of the pond with the gentle wind that is blowing up from the south. If I face into it I can hear the wind moving past my ears.

December 5, 2011:

It's so moist this morning that I checked the rain gauge to see if it had rained overnight but the rain gauge was dry. There is a haze of mist laying over the field this morning and occasionally swirling and flowing when a gentle breeze flows past. Even though it is well above freezing this morning the grass still feels a bit crunchy underfoot this morning, I think because the frosts of the last few mornings has left it dried and brittle. The dampness this mornings brings out the warmth in the browns, and especially the rich soft brown of the beech leaves.

December 4, 2011:

As so often happens, when I first step outside it seems like the birds are quieter than usual but once I slow down I start hearing them everywhere, both their calls and the noise of them moving in the branches above me as I wait under a small tree to see the sun rise. The field is pale white this morning with frost and underneath the crunchy grass the ground feels hard, like it is starting to freeze. There is no ice yet on the big pond but that water feels tinglingly cold against my skin. Coming back across the field the warmth of the sun is most welcome.

December 3, 2011:

The frost is glittering in the sun this morning and the grass feels crunchy underfoot. Two hours after sunrise it is still below freezing outside. Winter is definitely coming but the sun is shining brightly and feels warm on my body. There is a skim of ice on the vernal pool near the road but the big pond is still ice free, but cold! The sky overhead is a clear winter blue without a cloud to be seen.

Go to November 2011