On the coldest and clearest of the cold crisp days, the kids and I went out. We knew where we were going. We were going to find ice. We played on the frozen creek branch, where the ice was thick enough to sling them around on the sled. Unlike my Fellow Man, I am not a Canadian, and so I am wary of ice, tending more toward a sense of wonder than play. Or rather, I haven’t learned how to play on it as well as he. In the deepest part of winter, he is definitely the “Fun Parent.” I’m the one more likely to stop and listen to the gurgling song of the creek water, or counsel children to count the rays of the ice crystals. That’s what I do while my family twirls and slides on their feet and rear ends.
The creek branch is sometimes too small for my children’s icy aspirations. So we walked half way up the hill to our neighbor’s good watering hole, hoping that it was frozen enough to walk upon. And it was. We pushed the sled around. We threw some stones to hear the strange wing-ing sound they make as they skitter along the ice. And then the colors drew us in. There’s this strange aquatic plant at the bottom of our local ponds. It looks like bright green mermaid hair – it was shining in the sun – we had to get down on our bellies and just look below the ice, to the bottom of the pond.
We wondered at the depth of the ice, and how it stayed so clear, so cold. We wondered at the clarity of the water and the depth of the pond. The quality of the sun. There were little bottom feeders darting around, now and then, scared of our shadows maybe. We wondered what they were eating down there. It was wonderful to wonder together.
But maybe the best thing we saw was the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), in its full grown aquatic body. It was unperturbed by our presence above, and crawled through the tangle of algae and old leaves, waving its long tail, holding on sometimes with its beautiful wet paw feet. It didn’t look cold at all. We watched it for a long time.
It is such a gift, to live here, with all this water. Now, under the clear cold winter sun, it freezes solid, and we can lay across its top without making a ripple, without holding our breath. We can just look at the stillness beneath. In the muggy sleepy days of summer, we won’t want that perspective anymore. We will take a deep breath and dive in, with the Eastern Newts and all.