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Enjoy the quiet splendor of winter

Jan to March UNEDITED 1024x768 1

By Kathlean Wolf

What has January to say to March? She only wants to shake off the heavy cold, to sing in the burble and roar of snowmelt, to rise on the green tips of bulbs waking from the moist dark soil. March is yellow willow bark and red dogwood, shining bright in that suspenseful moment before bright green leaves explode across the landscape in the first moment of spring. January, cold, dark; her beauties are not merely forgotten. We wish to hear nothing of the silent blanket of white snow, the depth of denuded woodlands where the bark of oak and ash streak up toward a gray sky. The brilliance of a red sunset across a frozen pond where ice booms and creaks to itself through the night, the simplicity of winter’s splendor, crystals in a puddle; March refuses to acknowledge. “Leap forward! Grow! Wake and sing!” she says. Remembering is for October, when all these leaping singing things prepare in equal frenzy for the nourishment of sleep again. March will have nothing of January; no stories, no memories, no thanks for the clearing of the way for her fresh new growth.

Every winter, as a science writer and photographer, I look around with careful eyes to notice all that is beautiful about the cold and the ice. An antidote to depression and cabin fever, I pit myself against the cold, visit all of my favorite places in the woods and frozen marshes. And yet, by the time my stories are printed, spring will be on its way; you readers are thinking of gardens and spring cleaning. What can I tell you about the beauty of winter, as you clean the mud off your shoes before stepping into your home? Looking in seed catalogues, you glance out the window to see that the crocuses have come and gone, and tulips and daffodils take their place; and then open that window, to let in the first breath of fresh air in months. And yet, winter was beautiful; its story is worth remembering.

I follow the tracks of mice, squirrels and foxes, as they make their way along the hidden highway of Castle Creek. Here is the thin roof of a tunnel made by the voles and mice. Where do they go, so busily, on their brightly lit snow-covered roads? I can only say that they visit food caches, but perhaps they visit each other and hold secret social gatherings, the stuff of children’s imaginations. Foxes leap through the roof of their careful tunnels, leaving great shocks imprinted in the snow, the site of a rodent’s tragedy. My camera’s eye is challenged to capture these paintings in white-on-white; secrets only revealed to the human eye.

This year, I’m captivated by the ice on Warner Pond. Plowed clear for skaters, sunlight shines through to the algae beneath, allowing photosynthesis through the depths of winter. Oxygen bubbles float upward, captured in ice as microscopic lines striving for the atmosphere. The planes and angles of long cracks reach down to the cold, dark water beneath, contours of refraction and reflection, revealing that the depth of the ice layer is 10 inches or more. It is unnerving to walk atop this dark void; cracks and bubbles reassure me that the invisible ice is solid, safe.

January gives way to February, climate change bringing brief interludes of accidental spring. I celebrate the returning sun, mid-February days growing perceptibly longer; cold clings and snow falls, and our longing for the sight of green things becomes almost desperate. There is still time to notice crystals in the ice, the patterns of life in animal tracks. Reader, will you put down your seed catalogue, bundle up in your warm coat and gloves, and step out one last time to visit the quiet splendor of winter?

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