January 24, 2023

The long shadows of winter — even at midday.


Ice has a social life.  Its changeability shapes the culture, language and stories of those who live near it.

-Robert Macfarlane


The bomb cyclone hit the US, followed by the frigid temps of a polar vortex heading south.  Though western Mass got quite a bit of snow, all we got was rain, then the vortex brought with it temperatures down into the negative numbers.  I can dress for that, but Waldo can’t and I was worried about taking him for long walks.  In the past, when it’s been that cold, he’s had trouble with ice growing between his pads.  But there is no snow on the ground and that didn’t happen.  Just the same, I decided not to go for the rail-trail when it was that cold.  I needn’t have worried.  Waldo spent the entire day out on his throne, the balcony, keeping watch on his dogdom.

Today, it’s warmed up to around ten degrees and I decide to go for it.  My cheeks and forehead are a bit numb, but the rest of me, except my hands, are toasty.  My hands, I can easily deal with by alternating the leash with a warm pocket, except when I have to deglove to pick up what Waldo leaves behind.  Then they get very cold.  I keep an eye on Waldo, but he’s out prancing, sniffing whatever it is he can smell, and searching for stick upgrades.  I know he’s comfortable, not only by his eagerness to keep going, but also because, every once in a while, he drops back to where I am and pokes me with a stick.  He seems to think that’s strong temptation to get me to play with him.  I try to comply, but I’m not at all sure of the rules.  I do know it involves keep-away, then tug-of-war if I can grab the stick, followed by, if I win, a stick toss to somewhere within leash-length.  He’s having a good time.

We haven’t gone far and the path is blocked by a very thick chunk of ice.  It’s about ten or fifteen feet wide, too wide to step over, and it’s a good three inches thick.  It continues off-trail, so I have to cross the ice — very gingerly, but uneventfully.  Waldo didn’t try to avoid it and the cold didn’t seem to bother his feet, but he did slip and slide a little; his four-paw drive kept him upright, though.  The trail before and after the ice is clean and dry.  I know it wasn’t formed from the freezing of standing water because it’s in the middle of the path and stands up above the level of the tarmac.  It appears layered, as if a slowly moving shallow pool of water flowed out onto an already frozen sheet of ice, got stuck there, and then froze.  Something like that must have happened four or more times because there are that many layers.  As we walk along, we come across half a dozen similar glacial flows, so whatever caused them is not unique to one place.

I’ve never seen anything like it and I’m intrigued – I can’t help but wonder how they were formed.  During the rain, the temps were in the mid-fifties with strong winds.  Within twelve hours, the rain stopped and temps dropped to the negative single digits.  I know the freeze happened after the precipitation stopped, because there is absolutely no accumulation of snow.  So, somehow, the rain stopped, the temperature dropped and whatever standing water there was must have frozen.  Then flowing liquid water (which doesn’t freeze so easily), perhaps wind driven, must have accumulated on top of the ice where it stopped and froze.  Then the process repeated at least four times — sort of like how stalagmites and stalactites are formed.  Fascinating.

Waldo and I are intrepid walkers, for sure.  But we are not alone.  Despite the low temps, we pass several joggers and a few other walkers who aren’t inhibited by cold or ice.  There are no bikes or other dogs, though.  As we pass by, we say hello (Waldo usually has a hard time resisting a short greeting with wagging tail and gentle nuzzle) and everyone comments on what a nice day it is.  It’s a bit nippy, a bit blustery, but that only makes it different from the days before, not any less of a good day.  And we share amazement at the thick blocks of ice.

I pay close attention to the English ivy-covered tree as we pass.  I half-expected it to be withered and drained of green, but it’s not.  The leaves are just as plump and green as they were when the temperature was in the fifties.  The garlic mustard is still green too, although some of their leaves have curled up on themselves.  Some blades of grass and all of the moss is still green as ever, clearly ignoring the frigid cold. We didn’t see any squirrels, though, and what birds are left must have decided to spend the day at home.  But there are a few members of nature, including some humans and at least one dog, who are happy being outside, communing with Gaia, regardless of the weather.

And you never know what you’ll find along the way.


It’s colder than it looks…

Leave a Reply