If you ever get the chance…

… So, today, I spent some time at a tidal estuary, just at the turning of the high tide, in winter. My goodness, what a wonderful thing. Ice and snow covered everything, but (this being an estuary) none of it was what you might think of as solid. You could hear the water draining through the layer of snow, and every few minutes the ice would settle, as the stream slowly lowered. You could hear the trickling of water through snow, hear the shifting of ice, hear a waterfall, upstream and out of sight… You could hear seagulls arguing, and unseen songbirds making their presence known. A hawk kept silent watch on a dead tree, then disappeared while your back was turned. Canada geese kept flying, looking for open water.

Come spring, long-legged waders will show up, but this will be a very different sort of magic. The murmur of water moving through snow and ice, the desultory shifting of bathtub-sized floes, the whispering of the waterfall a hundred yards upstream, the sounds you can hear in the absence of the louder birds, waves, cars, boats, and people…

Spring will be beautiful, but it won’t be Winter. And Winter is beautiful. And if you ever get the chance to visit a tidal estuary in winter, and just hang around for an hour or two or three or four, my goodness you should do it. And if not, you can hang around a park, or a field, or a lake or river, or pretty much anywhere, for a few hours in the middle of winter. It’s a whole different world, and it is amazing.

Beats the hell out of staying indoors and watching television. So go. Take a break from all that other stuff, and just watch some birds for a while.

It is soooo worth it.


  1. Crudely Wrott says

    I remember winters in Wyoming, living on the banks of the Wind River. To provide water for the horses I pastured I constructed a sort of V-shaped weir out of rocks to accelerate the water in hopes that during the coldest months at least some open water was available for them.

    It worked fairly well and I took satisfaction in my handy work though I did have to go out at least once a day with a six foot, thirty pound ice chisel to keep the hole open. Sometimes twice when it got really cold. That is, twenty below F. or colder.

    The sound that the water made was startling. As it emerged from under the ice on the upstream side it made a sound that I can only describe as a million glasses of freshly poured champagne. A high frequency fizzle and hiss. It was a sound that I welcomed for it meant that the ponies had plenty to drink, in endless supply as long as I kept the hole open.

    Where the water went back under the ice on the downstream side was quite different, filled with low frequencies and ominous thuds and whooshes and bass drummings. I always found that frightening and had many mental images of slipping and falling in and being carried under the ice. Luckily, I did not and so am able to share some sounds of water in winter with you.

    Another time, much earlier, I was on hand when the ice went out on an April morning on a lake in New Hampshire. Merrymeeting Lake. (Lovely name, eh?)

    I was sitting on some rocks on the shore about an hour before dawn when, of a sudden, the ice cracked and moaned. A most wondrous change happened before my eyes. Channels opened in the once solid ice, narrow yet growing wider encouraged, I think, by a rising breeze just before sunrise.

    Along the edges of each rift the ice, near two foot thick during January and February and solid, monolithic for those months, suddenly began to morph. It changed into vertical prisms, pencil thin, which began to separate and fall into the newly opened waters. Attending this phase change was a musical sound, like wind chimes, like bells in the distance.

    As the leads spread and became wider across the lake the sound seem to grow in complexity but not volume. Everywhere thin shafts of ice were falling, rejoining the waters and each one had a note, clear and high and singular.

    I sat on that rock for over an hour listening and watching. When the sun had fully risen I started for my grandparent’s camp for warmth and breakfast. I was quite moved and grateful.

    By the end of that day the lake was nearly clear of ice with just a few patches of ice widely separated and heading downwind.

    Sometimes there are wonders and sometimes we get to watch, and hear.

  2. bassmanpete says

    I can really relate to this, just love winter. Moved from the UK to Australia nearly 30 years ago and my only complaints are that the summers are too hot and the winters not cold enough!

    On a sunny, frosty day, wrap yourself up in warm clothing, put on thick socks, boots and gloves and head off into the countryside. You’ll feel like you have the world to yourself because just about everyone else will be at home in front of a fire or in a heated shopping mall, cinema, whatever.

  3. RSC says

    It was eighty degrees in SC at the salt marsh today and I heard the fiddler crabs fiddling. The only ice was in my cooler keeping my drinks cold.

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