Saturday, January 31, 2015

Taking a Breather

Most of the rest of January, 2015
Mostly at home (when not at work)

Taking pictures of bubbles ... photo courtesy of Jackie Donnelly

Some who have lain flat on the ice for a long time,
looking down through the illusive medium,
perchance with watery eyes into the bargain,
and driven to hasty conclusion
by the fear of catching cold in their breasts,
have seen vast holes
"into which a load of hay might be drived,"
if there were anybody to drive it,
the undoubted source of the Styx
and entrance to the Infernal Regions from these parts.
HDT Walden, The Pond in Winter

The day after playing on the lake ice for hours,
I started feeling as if I was catching a cold.
I stayed home that Monday, thinking that bed-rest would avert the worst of it.

Nope ! By that Friday, I felt even worse, and stayed home again.

I have caught the “Coughing-Virus” that seems to be going around.
This is unlike any other cold I’ve ever had, you just cough and cough till your eyes bug out.

It’s a funny dry cough that leaves me breathless.
This cold is lasting a long time, and only time can cure it, since it’s a virus.
It’s hard to be patient, though.
After several weeks of moping around, and trying all the home-remedies I can think of, I finally feel like venturing outdoors again.

How terrible it must have been for Thoreau,
who contracted tuberculosis early in life.
He valiantly struggled with “the trouble in my chest”
throughout his life.

Having lost several family members and friends to this deadly affliction, he knew how it would end.
In the 1840s, there was no cure, and the disease was fittingly referred to as Consumption.

He was frequently ill for weeks at a time.
(Working in his family’s business -- grinding finely-powdered graphite – must not have helped !)

In between bouts of what he called “bronchitis,”
he spent as much time as possible outdoors, in all seasons.
Friends marveled at his strength and endurance.
He considered Nature the finest physician.

I am confined to the house by bronchitis ….
As soon as I find my chest is not of tempered steel,
and heart of adamant,
I bid good-bye to these
and look out a new nature.

   HDT, Journal, February 14, 1841

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ice, Thrice

January 3, 2015
Moreau Lake State Park

Part Two : The Lake

Two days later, having a weekend day available,
I returned to Moreau Lake and met Jackie there.
I wanted to show her those cool formations on Zen Brook.
It was a cloudy, still morning, damply cold, but we were bundled up tightly, prepared to stay out for a few hours.
The Warming Hut would be our final stop. 
We parked our cars in the main lot, and walked down the hill –
and lo and behold  --the Big Lake had finally frozen over solid !

Zen Brook would have to wait.
Who can resist being able to walk on water?

The pond had in the meanwhile skimmed over
 in the shadiest and shallowest coves,
some days or even weeks
before the general freezing.
The first ice is especially interesting and perfect,
being hard, dark, and transparent,
and affords the best opportunity that ever offers
for examining the bottom where it is shallow;
for you can lie at your length on ice
only an inch thick, 

like a skater insect on the surface of the water,
and study the bottom at your leisure,
only two or three inches distant,
like a picture behind a glass,
and the water is necessarily always smooth then.

There are many furrows in the sand where some creature has travelled about
and doubled on its tracks…

But the ice itself is the object of most interest,
though you must improve the earliest opportunity to study it.

If you examine it closely the morning after it freezes,
you find that the greater part of the bubbles,
which at first appeared to be within it,
are against its under surface,
and that more are continually rising from the bottom;

while the ice is as yet comparatively solid and dark,
that is, you see the water through it.
These bubbles are from an eightieth to an eighth of an inch in diameter,
very clear and beautiful,
and you see your face reflected in them through the ice.

There may be thirty or forty of them to a square inch.

There are also already within the ice narrow oblong perpendicular bubbles
about half an inch long, sharp cones with the apex upward;
or oftener, if the ice is quite fresh,
minute spherical bubbles one directly above another,
like a string of beads.
     HDT, Walden “House-Warming” 1854

Our pal Laurie appeared, having walked in from her house at the north end of the Park. 

She, Jackie and I spent quite some time admiring the various textures on the surface of the ice

(click to see detail in all of these)

... and the assortment of bubbles and cracks below, 

(champagne, anyone?)

(galaxies of tiny bubbles)

(X marks the spot)

(side fins in a crack)

(like silvery foil)

(and combinations thereof !)

                                      (how did this even happen?)

We are so easily entertained ... 

On the way out, we stopped back at the Warming Hut.
Laurie, ever-prepared, produced a surprise from her pack -- some delicious foil-wrapped goodies that she had brought to toast in the fireplace there.

More from  “House-Warming”:
The next winter I used a small cooking-stove
for economy,
since I did not own the forest;
but it did not keep fire so well as the open fireplace.
Cooking was then, for the most part,
no longer a poetic,
but merely a chemic process.
It will soon be forgotten, in these days of stoves,
that we used to roast potatoes in the ashes,
after the Indian fashion.
The stove not only took up room
and scented the house,
but it concealed the fire,
and I felt as if I had lost a companion.
You can always see a face in the fire.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ice, Thrice

January 1, 2015
Moreau Lake State Park, NY

Part One: The Brook

In this lonely glen,
with its brook draining the slopes,
its creased ice and crystals of all hues,
where the spruces and hemlocks stand up
on either side,
and the rush and sere wild oats in the rivulet itself,
our lives are more serene and worthy to contemplate.
     HDT A Winter's Walk, 1843

After getting comfy at the Warming Hut (It should be called the RE-Warming Hut), I went out again with the idea of stopping back at Zen Brook to see if it had settled down. 
Back on Christmas Day, I had gone there with Rick, who was visiting for the holiday. Usually, at this time of year, the brook slows to a trickle, and freezes most wonderfully.
This year, after the very un-usual Christmas Eve rains,
it had come to life again and was churning down the hillside in a torrent. No ice !

A week had gone by, and on this New Year’s Day, the weather had definitely turned much colder. Having the whole day at my disposal, I turned back from the Warming Hut and headed up to where the Red Oak Trail crosses Zen Brook.
I call it Zen Brook because it is a place of meditation, at any time of year. 

It's amazing how many varieties of ice there are --
what fantastic shapes and shadings have formed
out of almost nothing ! 

Thoreau mentions "chandeliers" and "organ-pipes" in his Journal,
in an attempt to describe some of the kinds of ice he observed
on the rivers and brooks. 
Later that night, I open his Journal,
and it's as if he was there beside me,
with his notebook out:

At the fall on Clematis Brook
the forms of the ice were admirable. 

The coarse spray had frozen as it fell on the rocks –
& formed shell-like crusts over them,
with irregular but beautifully clear & sparkling surfaces like egg-shaped diamonds 

each being the top of a club-shaped & branched fungus icicle –

This spray had improved the least core
as the dead & slender rushes drooping over the water & formed larger icicles about them …

on similar slight hints then were built out from the shore & rocks all sorts of fantastic forms

with broader & flatter bases from which hung stalactites of ice 

and on logs in the water
were perfect ice fungi of all sizes
under which the water gurgled flat underneath
& hemispherical. 

A form like this would project over the water
six or 7 inches deep by 4 or 5 in width & a foot long held by the rocks but with a slight weed for core. 

You could take off the incrustations on the rocks – turn them up 
they were perfect shells –
      HDT Journal, January 26, 1853

Just before the brook reaches the Lake, it “disappears” underground.  In the dry pebbled bed,  there were forms even more fantastic. No obvious water formed them. The frozen breath of the Earth.

One imagines Ice Sprites, painting the night air with frost.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2015
Moreau Lake State Park, NY

 The Big Lake is finally skimmed over at one end

What better way to start off the New Year
than to go on the First Day Hike at Moreau Lake State Park?
Parks all across the state of New York are participating in this new tradition. We were even presented with spiffy little fleece hats with the NY Parks logo on them. 
Later I found out that this was a part of a national initiative from America's State Parks, with over 400 hikes scheduled this year in all 50 states.
There was quite a turnout at Moreau Lake. Group size had to be limited, and thus some folks were actually turned away.

The day began cold but sunny. We walked all the way around the lake, mostly along the shoreline. In a year of normal water levels, this wouldn't be possible.

Andy, the new intern, officially led the hike. 
Rebecca, the Park Educator, brought Abby along too.

Abby the chilly-dog

Besides myself, there were several other members of the Friends of Moreau Lake State Park. We took the opportunity to point out some of the great things about the Park, since for some of the hikers, it was their first visit.
At the end of the circuit around the Lake, Dave awaited us in the Warming Hut, with hot mulled cider and other treats, to be enjoyed by a toasty fireplace.

Volunteers keep the Hut cozy on winter weekends

Jackie and I visited here repeatedly in December ... waiting for ice to form so that we could see the bubbles in Bubble Bay, or for a good snowfall to reveal animal tracks. But so far, it has not been a typical Adirondack winter.
Temperatures so far this season have wavered back and forth between cold and unseasonably warm, with very little snow.
Although there is cloudy grey ice on the shallow and sheltered Back Bay, the Big Lake has yet to freeze over completely.

Today there was a fresh layer of skim ice over two-thirds of the lake, and a big area of open water by the Fishin' Bridge.

The rains of Christmas melted what little snow there was on the ground, making for a dull brown landscape.

  Huge frost crystals emerge from the earth

Maybe this year,  it's because of Global Warming, 
but there was a winter like this back in Thoreau's day, too. 
He loved to skate on the river, wade through the snowy woods, and admire ice along the brooks. You can hear his disappointment in a journal entry of December 1855:

No snow;
scarcely any ice to be detected.
It is only an aggravated November.

Nevertheless, it's great to be outside with other folks who can appreciate such a fine day.
And we look forward to better days to come.