Ways of Looking at Winter: Ice Skating Birds

Ducks stood on the ice
Ducks stood on the ice

I’ve had a bit of a copy flow issue with the blog at the moment and I think the problem is that I haven’t been getting out enough. I’ve had two fairly inactive weekends in a row and all my week days are spent in an office.

When I first started working at the University of Nottingham’s University Park Campus I imagined myself going for nice strolls around the campus’s lake during my lunch break, but that hasn’t really happened. However, when I heard that the lake had frozen over I decided I had to go and have a look.

Today felt like we had reached the depths of winter. It was the first morning when even the uphill walk to work didn’t manage to warm me up and all the passers-by were steam trains of condensed breath. The ground was frosty and crunched under foot, and it remained frosty throughout the day.

Before I headed off around the lake I spent a long time stood at its eastern end watching the gulls flying playfully across the water and skidding on the ice as they landed. Mostly the mallard ducks seemed content to stand on the ice, but I saw (or rather heard before I saw) one brave duck breaking its way through thin patches of ice as it tried to find a clear path for swimming.

I saw three Egyptian Geese, a moorhen that ran seemingly startled from under a bush and across the path, and a crow that swooped down and picked up a silver sweet wrapper. I tried to get close to take a picture of it with its stuffed beak, but it jealously guarded its prize and scuttled off.

I also saw my first male tufted duck. Its circular, bright yellow eyes gleaming out of its black-feathered head looked startled and angry at the same time.

It was around 3 o’clock when I took my walk and the sun was already low in the sky, but to the east it still looked like day time, so that I could turn my head to dusk or day light.

Facing west
Facing west
Facing east
Facing east

The low sun glowed orange where it pooled its light, but just across the lake the ground was still frozen.

Frosty shores
Frosty shores/sunlit shores
Three o'clock sunset
Three o’clock sunset

At the steps I stopped to try and get a picture of the ice. Someone must have been throwing rocks at it because it was cracked and there were shards of ice all up the steps. I thought back to my last visit to the lake in mid-September. It was a warm day, the lake was lapping in the breeze and the path was populated with families and dog-walkers. Now it was still and silent and it seemed impossible that it could ever have been any other way. Summer is a strange thought now, an out of place idea.

Breaking the ice
Breaking the ice

The ice also reminded me of a quote I rediscovered recently when I found it jotted down in one of my many notebooks:

I too dream of northern places, of cold places. I don’t want warm beaches, I want ice. I want to travel to places that freeze the core and shatter the soul.

The quote is from an essay called Aurora by Kathleen Jamie, which recounts her trip by boat to Greenland. I probably jotted it down because its a quote that elicits a gut-wrench of familiarity. I too dream of cold, northern places. Somehow warm, tropical beaches seem superficial, but cold places are real and honest. Cold places shatter the soul because they strip away that superficiality and expose the bare bones. Trees lose their leaves, water freezes, and snow covers everything in a layer of sameness. Exposed in the cold we are forced to appreciate our surroundings because we know soon enough the need for warmth will pull us home again.

Having said that I didn’t do the entire loop of the lake because my feet started to get cold and I was worried about catching a chill in my thin work shoes, which made me think of two other possible ways of looking at winter: the common cold and warm clothing.


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