Monday, December 17, 2018

Hard and sharp

By Beth Sullivan
Winter and the shortest days are approaching. I will admit that sometimes I need a bigger push to get out the door when the days are so cold. But there is great beauty and some unique benefits to hiking at this time of year.
First, there is the light. There is something stunning about the crisp, sharp light now. As the sun slips farther south, the shadows loom long. Trees shapes become gnarled and lanky as they creep across the ground. Contrasts are more intense. Looking with a photographer’s eye or an artist’s sense of light and dark, it is amazing to see the depth of contrast when the colors themselves are more muted. It is time to appreciate the Earth tones, the shades of grays and gorgeous textures in the woodlands. Even the waterways take on muted tones when they reflect a more subdued sky. All of this subtlety makes the sunsets all the more outstanding, even though they are so early. We all need light for our physical, and especially mental, health. Take a walk, close your eyes and put your face in the sun, catch a little warmth. Then open them and notice the sharp strong light, the cool shadows and the warm tones of our Earth now, before she is covered with snow.
With the early intense cold, came hardness. Most of the ground is frozen already. While I miss the soft springy-ness of summer earth, it certainly makes walking in wet areas easier. With so much rain in November, our wetland preserves were pretty inaccessible. It was nearly impossible to do some off-trail boundary monitoring. Boots were a necessity. In some areas, trails and bridges went under water. Now the ground is frozen, some of the wet areas are crystallized with frost. It makes for tricky walking in some places, but it also creates interesting patterns of ice in the soil, in puddles, and around plants. Ice along stream edges creates great delicate sculptures. Sometimes those hard edges are the most beautiful.
Sunset is earlier but there is a sharp clarity to the light.

Designs on the light ice of slow streams.

Ice on the Cottrell Marsh cove is hard and sharp.

A look beneath the vegetation 

It is also the best time to see the bones, the structure, of the land. During the soft summer, everything is swathed in greenery. Autumn foliage distracts us from the essentials. But now we see the hills and valleys, the gentle rise and fall of some landscapes and the abrupt, hard edges of other vistas. This part of Connecticut is just full of mementos from the glaciers. They scoured clean the ridges and rock faces, they dropped boulders in erratic places, and left stones of all sizes at various depths in our soils. Now is the time to look more closely at the way our landscape was shaped. It is also time to appreciate all the centuries of work, done by a variety of peoples and cultures, to create walls, cairns, wells, and cellar holes. Almost all of the Avalonia preserves in southeast CT offer beautiful walls, abundant rocks, and glimpses of history within. It’s easiest to see it now.
Do yourself a favor. Bundle up. Get some light. Open your eyes to the more subtle beauty of this time of year. It will surely lift your mood. The brisk air will revive you and invigorate you. Feel the crunch of the ice beneath your feet. Repeat daily as needed.
Holiday Hint: If you want to feel warm and fuzzy amidst all the hard and cold, give yourself or a loved one the gift of a membership to Avalonia. You can feel good about that kind of gift, as it is not material, will be a perfect fit, will last all year, is tax deductible, and will provide both the giver and the receiver the most valuable sense of being part of something bigger than the simple gift itself.
Happy Holidays to all!
Glacial erratics are more visible at the Teftweald now.

Hidden stone structures are revealed at this time of year

Stone walls meander through woodlands and their rounded stones show the wear of centuries. 

You can imagine the energy of the upthrusting of these rocks at Stony Brook.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

You can still support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program.

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