Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Listening to ice

Sun's out!  And so am I: out the door and down to the river once more.  I enter the woods at the Sherman Island boat launch and head to the shore, hoping to hike on a usually reliable ice shelf that runs from the boat launch site to the first bend of the river downstream.  Not today, though.  Although the river appears solidly frozen over from shore to shore, there's no way to get out on it; at the edge the rising and falling water levels have created either a slick  sloping ramp that would send me right on my butt as soon as I stepped on it, or a crazy jumble of broken shards.  Ouch!  So instead, I  hiked in the woods.

Lots of critter tracks everywhere, including in and out of the water: mink, I assume, although I can't make out any distinct paw prints in the clumped up tracks.  I keep peering up and down the river and scanning the trees on the far shore, searching for bald eagles, which I have seen on this stretch of the river many times, both winter and summer.  Not today.

I find a quiet spot and just sit and listen.  What a racket!  In addition to the usual groans and pings of any ice-covered body of water,  I hear creaking and cracking and even outright crashing of slabs and shards as the whole surface of the river rises and breaks open the seam joining water to shore. 
The river creates a constantly changing exhibit of the possible variations on floating, moving ice.   When open water moves down the middle, large sheets as big as plate glass windows slither across each other, sometimes heaving straight up, then toppling and crashing into a thousand pieces of crystal.  One early winter day when thin ice had formed near shore and a blustery wind sent waves moving under the still-flexible sheet,  I could hear a twittering and chirping as if from dozens of birds. 

I did hear birds today:  ravens, from somewhere up on the far mountainside, and then a sweet, high, almost imperceptible note, right in front of my nose -- a golden crowned kinglet right there in a bush.  At this range I could really see how tiny it was.  How can such a wee spot of feather and fat endure our winter nights?

1 comment:

NatureGirl said...

Have you read Bernd Heinrich's book about winter? It gives all the fine details on how kinglets make it through this sometimes brutal season.