Winter reverie

Nature's Notebook

The first black scrim of ice has appeared on some of our shallow and secluded ponds, which raises my hopes of skating by Christmas. There are those, I am sure, who await the gleam of manufactured snow on their favorite slopes with equal relish, but I have always belonged to that tribe that prefers to glide with sharp blades on ice — and not manufactured ice.

I love the feel of the wind, and of seclusion, that comes from skating free and out in the open rather than with slow eddies on the rink. It is a selfish pleasure, and one that requires the right convergence of cold air and the absence of snow. It is one of the season’s timed events, and I seek it the way I look for mushrooms in their time, or listen for the first spring peepers. I look forward to those cold Decembers when my feeders play host to birds from the north, evening grosbeaks and pine siskins irrupting southward in the face of the Arctic wind.

When I was growing up, a starry night in December was an invitation to strap on skates, or trudge through the snow to the old log cabin to spend the night with a friend or two stoking the fire and telling stories cocooned in our mummy sacks. If the moon was out and the snow lay thick, it was a time to bring our sleds to the top of the hill and coast on our backs as the stars sped by.

I am not always rhapsodic about nature’s winter offerings. I do not always look with pleasure on the plunging temperature and the short daylight hours. Too often now Jack Frost’s whimsical artistry merely signifies cold hands and an icy windshield. It is very easy to let the season become an inconvenience, rather than an opportunity to breathe in that sharp air and listen to the silence of a winter night. This is something I struggle against, for I need that spark of wonder, the candle cupped in the caroler’s hand, to sustain me through the bleak midwinter.

So I sharpen my blades, and study the weather, and wait for the ice to hold. Then, if I am fortunate and conditions are right, one of the these dark December nights will find me skating out over the frozen world, spinning with the stars and the silent trees.

Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.