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December 22, 2008

Solstice Slump

Filed under: General,Opinion,Philosophy — Steve Hamlin @ 1:32 pm

January sunset, Quabbin ReservoirThoughts on the arrival of winter.

The season’s barely arrived and I’ve already got a bad case of the winter blues. It’s snowed for three days and we’ve got about fifteen inches on the ground – my hopes of a snowless winter are dashed. All I can do now is bide my time working and dream of adventures to come.

We’ve booked a brief ‘retreat’ at Cape Cod for the latter part of January, so I can at least look forward to that reprieve from my long, dark winter of toil. If the winter is hard, and the snow continues to fall, maybe we’ll be treated to some feathered visitors from the north, driven south by the storms. I wouldn’t wish hardship on the birds for my entertainment, but the weather is clearly beyond my control (witness the unwanted piles of snow).

I plan to spend my time while we’re at the Cape doing the things that tend to get squeezed out when we’re at home – birding, photography and writing. I’m hoping that the weather will allow me to do a little bit of bicycling too. Usually the coast is less snow-bound than the hill country where we live.

Our last mid-winter trip to the Cape, in February of 2003 didn’t hold to that pattern though. We drove down in a blizzard which doubled the normal three hour drive time. Despite the snowy conditions, we had an enjoyable week. Denied cycling opportunities, I did some cross-country skiing in Nickerson State Park and on Nauset Beach. Skiing on the beach was particularly memorable.

Winter serves two useful purposes for me: it promotes gainful productivity, and it provides a contrast to the other three seasons which heightens my appreciation of them. The winter can also be quite beautiful, of course. I enjoy the hushed stillness of snow-filled woods, and I appreciate the metamorphosis that occurs in some of my favorite haunts.

There’s a brook not far from our house that I’ve visited and photographed under many conditions and in every season. It has a beautiful gorge, with a series of waterfalls. Like all brooks, it is constantly changing, from a raging torrent in the spring melt or after a heavy storm, to a mild trickle during a dry period. During the winter, the clutter of the surrounding forest floor is blanketed in white and the waterfalls flow half-hidden behind a veil of ice. On a sunny winter day, the normally dusky north-facing slope down which the brook flows, is fairly bathed in sunlight, due to the lack of leaves on the trees.

On one visit to the gorge on a winter’s day a couple of years ago, I discovered miniature ice formations that had been deposited on the underside of a rock shelf by the brook. I suspect the brook had been running higher and had frozen to the rock, then, as the water level subsided, the frozen formations had followed, creating interesting ball-like icicles. I spent quite some time trying to photograph the ice in just the right light. Its location in a crevice under a rock made the sunlit opportunities fleeting, adding a sporting challenge to the whole endeavor.

Another place that I’ve visited numerous times and continue to be drawn to are the Arches – a series of 1840′s vintage stone railroad bridges, mostly abandoned, that are located on a remote stretch of river a few miles from our home. They are beautiful at any time of year, but they seem particularly well suited to winter. The simple color palette compliments the grays of the quarried stone block. The silence of the season – even muffling the normally ebullient river – seems to pay tribute to the proud heritage of the structures, and the craftsmanship and toil of the men that built them.

The solstice has arrived, the longest night of the year with it. With that hopeful observation, I’ll tend to my business and cultivate my plans for the warmer weather to come. Through the long winter months, I’ll try to remember the fortunes of those in more northern regions than I, who have longer to wait for the warm sun and green grass of spring.

All text and images © Steve Hamlin
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