Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Opposite Winter

Lost in thought, the tip of my birch paddle reminds me of the gravel and shell infused sandbar that sweeps my way off of Pond Point.

I set out from the beach on a falling tide that limits my choices of where to go, but, in this prolonged cold, my choices have already been reduced, the fresh water and protected places of the salt marshes frozen over, at least well enough to keep my canoe out.  The sky is high thin clouds that signal a possibility of snow, but the wind is light and the air about 20F.

Charles Island

This winter has been the opposite of the last, at least in relation to the freezing point of water.  Last winter, the weather was above freezing with only short spurts of icier cold.  This winter has been a long stretch of subfreezing weather that has locked up the fresh water streams.  Just a day or two at a time of warmer weather comes, tempting the ice to break up, but not completing the task.

32F (or 0C) is everything.  Water, snow and ice have dozens of different properties to take on within a couple degrees of that number.  Most people don't quite get it, except to how it affects their commutes, but people of the outdoors see it first hand.  The nordic skiers have one or two ski wakes for 10 to 20 degrees, another one or two for 20 to 28 degrees, and about a dozen for 30 to 34 degrees, when the snow is part water, part snow, and part ice in varying degrees.  From my canoe, I notice the birds.  This winter, a great many more birds are in the salt water.  Ducks and geese that prefer fresh water or brackish salt marshes are doing their feeding in the shallows of the sea.  The population and density is up as they too, have limited choices of where to go.

Milford Harbor
This is the real threat of climate change.  It's not so much the 2 degrees from 50F to 52F.  It's where the water freezes.  Permafrost will become perma-marsh, frozen river banks will erode - the northland disolving, the glaciers going to water, freezing rains preventing caribou from digging for lichen and rapid change that all life will find difficult to adapt to. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Calm Comes

The sea is calm under a sky of of low haze and filtered sun with Long Island visible only as a darkened smear  about where one would guess that the horizon lies.  In conditions like this, birds on the water can be spotted from a mile away but remain unidentified.  Even at a hundred yards, they are silhouettes and recognized only by behavior or shape, their colors dissipated by indifferent light.  The scaups take wing first, the long tailed ducks chatter incessantly, and the loon lies low but so much larger than the ducks behind it.

The canoe races forward, a result of the smooth fast water and my two weeks stuck on shore.  I wipe the grin from my face and slow down to a pace that I can maintain for the day.  This is my second winter in these parts and this winter is more of a winter than the last, which seemed pretty mild.  We have had a month of cold air, which froze the freshwater streams and ponds and finally, the salt water marshes.  Even Gulf Pond froze over, the ice thick enough to survive the twice daily fluctuation of tide, the air cold enough to freeze salt water.  But, it was the wind that came with the cold that kept me ashore.  Even when it subsided some, it just didn't leave enough margin to be safe.  Today is different.

Charles Island from Merwin Point

I slide under the rusty bridge on a flood tide and find nearly all of the lower half of Gulf Pond open.  Only at the top, where the pond is cut in half by a road and bridge is there much ice, and that is off to the side and out of the current.

Gulf Pond

I slide under that bridge and into the upper half.  It takes just a few minutes to explore the upper waters.  It is frozen over except for a small area near the bridge where the tidal current flows the fastest.  There will be no visit to the Indian River, which I imagine is frozen fairly solid anyway.