Nature's Notebook - Tim Abbott
December, 23, 2010
The shortest day arrived this week, with just 9 hours and 2.5 minutes of daylight available at our latitude. By the summer solstice, our full allotment will be a luxurious 15 hours and 19.4 minutes. The summer sun is a comet trailing bits of cosmic dust, but winter’s is a glacier on the way to melt water. I turn toward the light at this time of year in whatever form it takes, even the ice blue moonlight and the frosty glint of stars.
There is floe ice again in the Housatonic, and very soon some of our sheltered ponds may be safe for skating. There is little I like better than to glide across a frozen lake, bending low and pushing hard across its hard, slick surface. I love the scrape of the blades and the cascade of shavings when I make a hard stop. More often, now, I make a slow circuit of an indoor rink with my children, weaving in and among the other schooling fish, but when there is a chance to open up on natural ice I take to it eagerly.
The ice sculptures in my winter carnival are cliffside cascades, the blue of new ice and the brittle white of old. They stand out against the mountains amid the evergreens and glaze the tumbled stone. Or perhaps they weep from maples after warm days with rising sap. The steam from the river coats the trees on either side with an icy sheen that glistens in the new light of morning.
True, I scrape the frost on my windshield with a good deal less aesthetic appreciation. The ice dams of porch roofs and the crushing weight of freezing rain have an altogether bleaker aspect. Black ice on a pond becomes hazardous on a roadway. It is hard to write poetry with frostbitten fingers.
It is no accident that for many in the northern hemisphere, the darkest hour coincides with our festivals of light.
In spite of clenching cold and short hours of daylight, we light our candles and feed our fires and renew our faith in the promise of spring. That frozen orb above is still a ball of fire. These days are growing longer, even when buried deep in snow.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.