Land Journal: March 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.

March 31, 2012: Gently Falling Snow

A few flakes of snow are drifting down from a nearly featureless gray sky, passing the still-gray trees on the way down. The flakes that fall on the ground get lost in the texture of the grass and then quickly melt, but the flakes that fall on the corner of my towel stand out more and last longer, giving me a chance to study them. Most have no distinct shape but a few are tiny, precise six-pointed stars: some with thick heavy points, others with finer, sharper points. The snowflakes falling in the woods make a sort of rattling sound when they hit the dry leaves. The snowflakes that fall on the pond vanish instantly the moment they hit the water; transforming back into liquid water. Floating on my back looking up at the falling snow one big flake comes down spinning gently as it falls. There is something incongruous and absurd but also glorious about swimming amidst falling snow.

March 30, 2012: Winter Turning to Spring

A cold northwest wind is pouring down over the hills this morning, sending purplish-gray clouds, edged in gold, sliding across a blue sky. The air has a wintery feel to it and the sky is clear, crisp, winter blue, but the land is turning greener with each passing day. The hawthorns are glowing with the soft green of new leaves emerging and in the woods green shoots are pushing up through the brown carpet of last year’s fallen leaves. The pond is still a rich, deep black; still and calm until the wind ruffles the surface. The reflection of a bird flying across the pond looked like some strange fish racing swiftly through the water. The reflection of the sun gave me the feeling that there were two suns trying to warm me up after my dip in the pond; trying to make up for the cold wind blowing across my wet skin.

March 29, 2012: Cool and Gray

Low gray clouds are sliding across the sky this morning, carried by a cool north-northwest wind, laden with moisture. Occasionally it coalesces enough to form a very light rain but even when it’s not raining the dampness is pervasive. There are a few lighter spots in the clouds but there’s no hint of anything that looks even vaguely blue. The birds don’t seem to mind. They are going about the morning doings: singing and chattering, flying high and low, both singly and in flocks: activity everywhere I turn. We like to think of a spring morning as being warm and sunny, but this cool dampness is probably more of a true spring morning than the almost-summer mornings we were having a week ago.

March 28, 2012: A Great River of Air

Clouds have filled the sky overnight. To the east and south they are rippled like water. It feels like I am at the bottom of a great river, looking up through the water flowing across the land from west to east, down to the valley and the ocean. The birds flying high overhead are fish darting and weaving through the current. When some patches of blue sky come along the clouds have lost their watery feeling but there is still a sense of looking up through to something beyond, especially when the sun lights up the higher clouds, adding to the sense of depth. At the pond the clouds are reflected in the water, giving me the sense that I am diving up into the sky to join the birds flying in the river overhead, where I can join the two barred owls calling back and forth, upriver a bit, in the woods off to the west.

March 27, 2012: Cold Returns

We’ve made an abrupt shift back to more winter-like temperatures this morning. A little before sunrise it is well below freezing and I can see my breath. But the howling northwest wind that brought in this cold air has stopped and the sun is rising into a clear winter-blue sky. The birds are a little subdued by the cold but the rising sun seems to enliven them. It also seems to bring back a bit of a breeze: at first just a hint of air flowing across the land, barely stirring the dead plant stalks and shivering the grass, and then building to enough to shake the smaller tree branches and occasionally send ripples across the pond. Still not much wind, but the cold makes it feel stronger. The trees are still bare save for the tiny flowers, properly called catkins, on the red maples; but the grass is green and green leaves are starting to appear on some of the bushes. Spring will come. Standing at the end of the dock, a drop of water falls from my hand and lands on the still surface of the pond and sends a faint ripple radiating out across the water.

March 25, 2012: Approaching Rain

I’m writing from Maine this morning, from the rocky, spruce-clad shore of Long Cove, Deer Isle. The morning feels subdued; heavy gray clouds fill the sky from horizon to horizon. There are many shades of gray in the clouds but all the edges between different shades are soft and un-dramatic. The light is similar: soft and muted, without any of the strong shadow lines that bring drama to a landscape. At the far end of the cove it looks like a slight breeze might be stirring the water, but at my end there isn’t a hint of wind. Rain is on the way but it looks likely to be a cold spring rain that creeps across the land, arriving so quietly that it would be easy to miss unless you are standing out in it. A large dark bird flies across the cove with slow, heavy wing beats that seem barely to keep it aloft, and lands on the top of a tree. Its size and the agitation it causes amongst the crows suggest that it is almost certainly an eagle. A little later, when it flies back across the cove I can see the white head and tail, confirming its identity. I walk down across the seaweed and mud flats into the water. It is low tide so even 50 feet from shore the water is not yet up to my waist, but it is deep enough to duck down and get myself wet and then slip in and start swimming. It’s cold, but my body adjusts and I feel energized by it. Swimming back towards shore I have to angle slightly to counter the tide that is slowly pulling me out towards the sea.

March 23, 2012: Change

Gray clouds are flung across the sky this morning like paint splattered across a giant canvas. The edges of the clouds slowly turn white as the sun comes up behind the clouds; then whole patches of clouds turn white; and then the clouds slowly fade away. A dense mass of clouds off to the east is the slowest to change and fade: it’s not until well after sunrise that the sun finally starts to finds some cracks to peek through, and the slowly the clouds give way and dissolve. The changes happen at a pace that seems very slow if I try to watch one place and witness the change, but when I look away and then look back a minute or two later whole banks of clouds have transformed or even vanished. Nature has a way of doing that; as does life at times! The red flowers on the red maples are coming out, given sections of the forest a delicate reddish tone. The pond is coming to life too. Standing on the dock getting ready to dive in I saw a hand-sized turtle floating at the surface. When I moved my head he turned quickly and swam back down into the dark depths of the pond. Nearer the dock a salamander was floating underwater next to the remnants of one of last year’s lily pads.

March 22, 2012: Low Clouds

Low clouds are sliding over the hilltop this morning, not far above the trees, but there is plenty of blue sky too. The clouds aren’t thick enough to hide the sun but they often dim its light down a bit, to a soft light that imparts a warm glow to the trees to the west. The forest is still largely brown except for the evergreens, but the grass is starting to turn green and flowers are starting to appear on some trees, softening the hard lines of the branches. I even saw green leaves starting to burst out of the buds on a small bush near the pond. The weather is supposed to be turning a bit colder again but that certainly isn’t evident this morning. It barely feels cool. The pond is warming up fast too. The water about a foot below the surface is already up to 55 degrees. Mixed in with all the other bird calls I heard the slow sad call of the mourning dove; the first time I’ve heard that call in months. Their call always reminds me of growing up in Minnesota.

March 21, 2012: Fog

Fog has settled over the land this morning. When they are visible at all, the line of pines and hemlocks at the top of the field has been simplified down to a single shade of dark gray: a silhouette in the fog. Nearer deciduous trees along the edges of the field are dark against the pale fog beyond, their structure wonderfully visible. The basic system is the same: a central trunk slowly dividing into smaller and small branches; but each tree finds its own variation. On some trees the branches all reach upwards with a single-minded purpose while on others the branches languorously spread, curve and droop. The big trees particularly reveal the striking contrast between the massive central trunk and the fine tracery of countless fine branches, dark against the fog. At times the sky overhead looks almost blue and the sun’s rays are lighting up the high spots in the fog overhead, creating whiter patches, but the fog seems to be getting thicker after sunrise, not thinner.

March 20, 2012: Vernal Equinox

The sky is blue overhead except for a few small puffy clouds drifting by; but the air is so thick with moisture it’s almost tangible. A white mist hangs in the air over the field and the sun has a hazy, humid, August look to it. The air is also thick with bird calls; so many that individual calls get lost amidst the sea of sound. The last snow patches are gone and the last ice is also gone from the pond. The still bare trees are reflected in the dark, still water of the pond. It is the Vernal Equinox today and the change of seasons is definitely underway.

March 19, 2012: Misty Air, Vanishing Snow and Ice

The sky is mostly blue overhead but there are some high, wispy clouds. One in particular is rather dramatic, with a swirling spikiness that feels rather like one of the more elaborate Chinese dragons. The air over the field is laden with moisture. A pocket of white fog has collected in the hollow down near the blueberry field. Looking across the field towards the sun there is a white haze that is only a foot or so thick, lit up by the newly rising sun shining through it. There are only a few small patches of snow left: in the shade of the hemlocks, but not actually in underneath the trees where the original snow cover was thinner. Rather the snow is just south of the hemlocks where more snow accumulated but where the sun can’t get to it now to melt it. In another day these few patches will likely be gone too. There is also just a tiny bit of ice left on the pond, way down at the south end where it is shaded the most from the sun. The water has even warmed up a bit. It is still cold but it has warmed enough that I can swim a ways down the pond before the cold pushed me to turn around and had back to land.

March 15, 2012: Fog

A still, silent, foggy morning. Black trees silhouetted against a gray sky. Half an hour before sunrise the first bird starts to call. Just a few patches of snow left and just a little ice left down at the far end of the pond. Slipped into the water and swam out on my back, looking up at the fog and the dark trees.

March 14, 2012: Swimming Again

It’s a clear, cool spring morning with just a hint of a breeze slipping across the field. The sky overhead is a deep, rich blue. The bright white half-moon is high in the southwestern sky. The air is awash with bird calls: three or four or a dozen birds are calling at once, their calls overlapping and mingling with each other to create a tumult of sound. The southern two thirds of the pond is free of ice! The surface shimmers slightly: motion after so months of frozen immobility! I can dive in and swim for this first time since late October; almost five months ago. The water is bracingly cold but it’s glorious to dive in feel the water sliding around me as I shoot forward underwater and then come to the surface and swim. I can explore once again the reaches of the pond beyond the little circle at the end of the dock, to which I was restricting while the pond was frozen over.

March 13, 2012: Coming to Life

It rained overnight and the air is heavy with moisture. A white fog hangs over the remaining patches of melting snow and even more so over the pond: the water that’s been trapped in the snow and ice all winter is being released. While there is not yet much green around other than the evergreens, there is warmth to the browns and tans that still dominate the landscape. The land feels gentle and welcoming this morning. The gray ceiling of clouds overhead only adds to the feeling of the land being wrapped in a warm, enveloping blanket that is nurturing the world back to life after the winter. The pond is coming alive too. Yesterday’s small patches of open water right near at the south end have expanded into a large patch of open water that just reaches the end of the dock, Other patches of open water are developing at other places around the edge of the pond. The ice now starts just a couple of feet from the end of the dock so this morning it still feels like I am taking a dip in a hole in the ice but by tomorrow I should be able to swim! In the meantime, walking on the dock once again sends ripples out across the open, living water.

March 12, 2012: Thinning Ice

It’s mostly clear but dawn reveals a few wispy clouds scattered across the deep blue sky. The clouds down near the eastern horizon are visible first and slowly turn pink. Then, as these clouds fade to white the pink slowly moves to clouds that are further and further west until it is clouds to the north and south and overhead that are a pale pink and then finally there is a hint of pink to clouds down close to the horizon way over in the northwest. The activity amongst the birds also builds as the day gets lighter. In addition to the calls there seem to be birds flying all over this morning: constant activity. At the pond there is about an eighth of an inch of new ice over the hole but the ice around the hole is down to a couple of inches thick. A few areas are beginning to open up near the shore, especially by the outlet. It seems like the ice melts from the top down because a log that was completely covered in ice a few weeks ago is now sticking up a few inches above the ice.

March 11, 2012: A Day Five Months in the Making

It’s that beautiful time in the lunar month when the rising sun shines on the three-quarter moon just as it is setting into the trees. It is also a glorious day that I have been anticipating for over five months: the day when I can stand on the end of the dock just after sunrise and feel the sun shining on me! Since September 30, all through the winter months, the sun has been too far south at sunrise and has been hidden by trees and by the cabin. Now it is back! The world feels like it is coming alive this morning. Everywhere I turn there are birds: singly and in flocks, flying high and flying low, singing and singing and singing some more. The ice over the pond has gotten a bit thinner but meanwhile it was cold the night before last so in the last 48 hours a full inch of ice had formed over my hole in the pond. I walk back across the pond for one of the last times this winter, reveling in the sun.

March 9, 2012: Warm and Cold

A northwest wind is roaring through the trees and sending low, dark, puffy clouds racing across the sky. Above these clouds are lighter, thinner clouds, much higher up, that are also moving but in a slightly different direction. The winds higher up appear to be more west-northwest. Large patches of blue sky are opening up, especially to the northwest. But in the east the clouds are dense and thick and the sun remains completely hidden until well after sunrise, when it starts to at least show up a brighter spot in the clouds. Yesterday’s very warm weather – it got up to around 65F (18C)! – left the field almost completely clear of snow, except right up along the tree line where the sun could not shine directly on the snow. But then last night, as colder air swept in on the back of the northwest wind, we got a light coating of new snow; not enough to cover the grass but enough to give the field a bit of whiteness. At the pond, all that is left of the slabs of ice I’d been standing in the snow are a few shards of ice scattered around, where the pile of snow and ice used to be just 24 hours ago. My hole had a thin skim of ice over it this morning; maybe 1/16 inch, but the ice around the hole has thinned considerably. It is down to around four inches thick.

March 8, 2012: Spring

There is a brisk southerly wind blowing this morning but it just feels cool, not cold, because the temperature is all the way up in the mid-40’s. The overnight low hasn’t been this warm since early December. The field is still snow covered but that won’t last long if these temperatures keep up. There are birds calling everywhere, their calls overlapping on top of each other. A little while after sunrise I hear the familiar honking of a flock of geese. There are about 50 of them flying by high overhead, heading north. I don’t think I’ve heard the sound of geese honking in months. There are lots high, feathery clouds, especially off to the east; not enough to hide the sun but enough to mute its rays. Three times in succession tiny puffy clouds drift by much lower down and then as I watch they fade away into nothingness. At the pond there is no new ice over the hole. It is ice free; the first time that has happened in months. My field of standing ice slabs is down to one piece and it has holes going right through it and a thin, fragile, irregular edge. Yesterday morning it was an inch thick, but it won’t last through the today. The pond is still covered in a thick layer of ice but the surface of the ice is so soft that I can push my finger into it.

March 7, 2012: Wind Shift

What a difference a change in the wind makes. This morning there is a gentle, somewhat fitful breeze blowing out of the southwest and the temperature is barely below freezing at sunrise. I would not go so far as to say it feels warm this morning but it is nowhere near as cold as the previous couple of mornings. Off to the south and southeast there are a few patches of small, puffy, vaguely linear clouds that slowly fade from deep purplish-gray to white as the sun comes up, and then fade away completely after sunrise. Otherwise the sky is a clear, deep, rich blue. Down near the eastern horizon where it slowly fades from orange to pale yellow as the sun gets ready to rise. At the pond there is a bit over half an inch of ice over the hole. Yesterday was not warm. The older of the chunks of ice I have been standing in the snow next to the hole have developed softly rounded edges. One in particular, a tall pointed piece, is wonderfully soft and tactile as well as quite transparent, with just some very tiny linear bubbles running through it from front to back. It feels like one of those small (but expensive) glass objects glass objects, intended to be caressed rather than just looked at. Up above the pond two red-winged blackbirds have staked out different tree tops and are dueling it out in song, accompanied by lots of other birds all around.

March 6, 2012: Cold

By air temperature alone today makes yesterday seem downright warm. It is 12F (-11C) this morning, but there is almost no wind today so it does not really feel much colder. But it certainly is not warm out! It has not been this cold in almost a month and back then we were in what was supposed to be the depths of winter. The sun comes up into a clear, deep blue sky with not a cloud in sight. Even the light of the sun feels a bit cooler this morning, maybe because so much light is reflecting off the snow. Still, seen close up the rough bark of the hemlocks is a wonderfully warm brown in the light of the sun. And with each morning it seems like there are more different birds calling. They know spring is coming! At the pond, a thick layer of ice had formed over the hole: a little over an inch since yesterday morning. Half an hour or so later when I went back by the pond this morning the hole was already almost completely frozen over again, with big feathery ice crystals.

March 5, 2012: Geographic Snow

The birds sound like spring this morning but the air feels very wintery. It is a cold 19F (-7C) at sunrise, and a brisk northwest wind makes it feel even colder. The wind is pushing a few puffy gray clouds across the sky; as the sun comes up they slowly become puffy white clouds. Otherwise the sky is clear; deep blue in some areas but subtly hazy from high thin clouds in other places, a haze that produces a beautiful “sun dog” about an hour after sunrise. The snow sparkles and shines in the morning sun; its hard surface reflecting the sunlight. There is a gentle undulation to the surface of the snow. It feels like the rolling prairie of the high plains, viewed from high above, with the low sun bringing out the ripples and waves of the landscape. Some softer snow is caught in the low spots creating patterns that feel very map-like; maybe these patches or the villages, nestled in the valleys, shown on the map in a different color. The surface of the pond is hard and smooth with just a bit of subtle patterning from a dusting of wind-blown snow. My hole in the pond has three quarters of an inch of ice over it. After breaking it up I add to my henge of standing ice chunks next to the hole. Yesterday’s pieces have developed a curious zig-zagging crackle pattern. The whole time while I am taking my dip a red-winged blackbird sings from the top of a nearby tree. Occasionally I can catch the flash or red on his wings.

March 4, 2012: Clouds of Many Varieties

Yesterday’s warm weather melted the snow off the trees but hardly made a dent in the snow on the ground. It’s below freezing again this morning and the snow underfoot is hard and crunchy; almost hard enough to walk on without breaking through the crust, but not quite. Overhead there are multiple layers of ever changing clouds, ranging in color from dark gray to white, and ranging from puffy to streaky to feathery to sometimes simply dense and dark. There are occasional patches of blue that show through overhead, but not to the south or east: there the clouds are a dense mass of gray that completely hides the sun and any hint of blue sky. Turning to the north it might almost be another day: there puffy white clouds give way to a clear blue sky off in the distance! Lots of different birds are calling all around this morning, from the red-winged blackbird up by the pond to blue jays and robins and the usual sparrows squabbling in the bushes, to a crow flying high across the sky, cawing as he goes. At the pond there is a little less than half an inch of new ice over the hole. A mound of snow next to the hole makes a good place to stand on edge pieces of ice from the hole and then enjoy the beautiful patterns in the ice.

March 3, 2012: Mist, Ice and Slush

Two days ago the trees at the top of the field were shrouded in falling snow. This morning they are shrouded, off and on, in mist. Sometimes the trees are sharp and clear and dark; other times they are grey and soft; and sometimes just the tops are in the mist. At times the mist turns into a very light rain. The trees and weeds are still coated in snow but the coating is more spotty, some of the snow having fallen off while much has not, given everything a slightly mottled look. Occasionally the line of snow that was once along the top of the branch has drooped off to one side or the other, looking like a wet mass of sagging fabric. Overlaid onto the snow, the bare branches, and everything else for that matter, is a goodly coating of ice. The surface of the snow is hard and crunch underfoot, except that as soon as I step under the canopy of the hemlocks the snow becomes softer again, the falling rain having been caught by the hemlocks overhead. My hole in the pond has only about an eighth of an inch of ice on it, but on top of the ice is a good inch or two of wet slush. In fact most of the surface of the pond is covered by wet yellowish slush, but in some areas the very topmost surface is still dry enough to be white. So, the pond is yellow with bit white spots this morning.

March 2, 2012: Gray over White

The sky overhead is gray from horizon to horizon but the gray stops at the treetops and from there down everything is white. The snow fell for over 24 hours and by the time it stopped, late yesterday afternoon, almost nine inches had been laid down over field and forest. There’s been no wind so each twig, bough and weed still has its coating of snow. A robin lands at the very top of a small tree; his brilliant red breast glowing amidst all the white. At the pond there is only a little over half an inch of ice over the hole, but on top of the ice is a couple of inches of soaking wet snow. The rest of the pond is white with snow that looks normal but stepping on it reveals that below the white surface is a couple of inches of a snow-water mix that sloshes and squelches with each footstep. Fortunately, the ice underneath is still firm and hard.

March 1, 2012: Snow!

Twenty-four hours ago the field was nearly clear of snow. Now eight inches of fresh snow covers everything. The air is filled with snow that continues to tumble out of the clouds in vast quantities, as if trying to make up for all the snow we did not get earlier in the winter. The falling snow is like a white mist drawn across the field: the usually hard dark line of pines and hemlocks across the top of the field is a soft, misty gray. The fruit trees and the hawthorns, with their many small branches, have turned almost completely white overnight. They look soft and downy, and feel like something out of some other magical world. In the forest, the branches of the hemlocks and pines are bent down under their coating of snow. The brown hemlock bark looks wonderfully warm against all the white. There is no ice over my hole in the pond; instead there is four or five inches of wet snow that I can simply step down through. On my way back to the house I can’t resist taking a quick roll in the snow. It is a bit wet and heavy to be ideal for rolling in but it is still glorious. March has definitely come in like a lion.

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