Last Saturday when I got up, it was 10° outside. Frost clung to every surface and by the time I walked out, it had “warmed” to 17°. I brave the cold at this time of year, wrapped in down and warm boots, because I cannot miss the crystalline beauty that paints the landscape. It is the reward we Northerners receive for living in such a cold climate.
My breath puffs around me with each exhalation, lingering on the still air before dissipating. Boots crunch the grass and I crouch close to see tiny ferns of ice that grew overnight, making exquisite patterns. I am drawn to them because they are ephemeral; the arising sun will warm and eventually they will be gone, never to appear again in quite the same way.
During a cold snap, the ice on the waterfall, stream and river continues to grow and change. I liken it to an art exhibit that changes daily. I am compelled like a junkie to a fix to see what nature has done in her gallery since the day before. On days when I am busy, I resent the short daylight hours that limit my ability to get out before it grows too dim to see. (Most days I walk at mid-day to get the most possible sunlight for my vitamin D-starved body!)
On this day I was thrilled to see collars of ice edged the river in intricate patterns; there were bubbles caught in the middle of rising and pools where clear ice, two inches thick, revealed the pebbles and sand below. A movement of debris caught my eye and looking closely, I saw a one and a half inch caddis fly larva crawling along the underside of the ice, gleaning as it went. Amazing! It was so delightful to see that in this frozen world life goes on per usual. As I watched it, I noticed a couple smaller ones as well. Dormancy and hibernation are a big part of winter, but upon closer inspection, there is an abundance of activity even in the harshest of conditions.
The resident birds were busy up at the birdfeeder in the yard, but down by the river I heard only an occasional blue jay cry and the soft, sweet calls of juncos in the brush. A kingfisher cruised down the river, repeating its chirring staccato. I am not sure if they stick around all winter or migrate farther south, following open streams in search of food. I have seen them only occasionally in winter but they must have a wide range, as they are not regular daily visitors. Our streams can freeze right over so finding aquatic food must be challenging. I love their dramatic call, crested head and blue-white plumage. Their agile flight behavior amazes me and as a symbol of good luck, I am always happy to see one.
If I ever get the winter blues, a sure-fire cure is a walk in the winter wonderland that surrounds my home. The doldrums don’t last long with so much to capture my attention. When my cheeks are rosy and my lungs are refreshed, I return to the woodstove with a cup of tea in hand, healthier in body and mind, grateful for the good life that I lead.