A soft mist of rain falling on even softer snow. The road a sheet of ice. A pair of resident ravens squawk from the spruce trees down in the gully.
The January thaw, Joe L’Orsa patiently explained during my first winter here.
Great plops of snow slip off the roof, off the drooping alders. You can hear the crystals shifting.
Right now the creek is mostly silence. Snowshoeing just a couple of days ago, before this thaw, its voice is hard to track. At times the path is as quiet as any terrestrial winter trail when the snow is powder. At times the creek gurgles on our left from under that big old spruce curving way out beyond the bank. Then on our right, where the creek turns against its own current. At times a pool opens and we watch water moving over a sudden clarity of stones. Even when we’re breathing air that measures minus twenty. No wonder the dipper dives in.
The mystery of water. How can it run at all when it’s been well below freezing for several weeks now? How can this side hill ooze moisture even after the frost has burrowed in deep? And why has our snowshoe path from a couple of days earlier disappeared into a new opening?
You think it’s going to happen again when the solid thunk thunk thunk of your snowshoes and the trail’s responding crunch shift into the hollow sound echoing from an air pocket under the ice. You hold your breath and hope the ice holds. You wonder, how big is the air pocket? If the ice suddenly opens, you hope the drop won’t be too far. But you know it’s there. And no matter how hard you try, you’re never ready for it.
The January thaw. The strangeness of rain falling on the snow still covering the ice under which the creek flows. The mystery of water.