The sun, though it now travels a circuit ca. 20° south of the equator, radiates brilliant, slanting light when high pressure visits from the Arctic, as it did in early January. Rare and fleeting, as becomes a “pearl of great price,” it burnishes weeds, bird feeders, and eagle pairs inspecting last year’s nests. And creates jewel-like mosaics of ice and snow at historic Calkins Creek.
This small eddy at Calkins Creek, dimpled with water striders and whirligig beetles in summer, draws furtive four-legged visitors in January, as recorded in “Secrets,” a poem by Catskill writer Inez George Gridley:
“Some secrets of the winter woods Are kept
below the line of frost
In tunnels deep and wandering…
Or hidden in a bud’s tight fist.
But cryptograms of track and feather,
The hieroglyphics of the snow,
Give up their woodland mystery.”*
In August, tall gilded stalks on this Calkins Creek gravel bar will become clumps of Joe Pye weed flowers, whirring with bees and butterflies. But it’s especially magical in January, as Gridley knew:
“December carpets the winter floor,
Ice is brittle where tall ferns stood.
Deer mouse and chipmunk and shy gray fox
Will watch us walk in the glistening wood.”*
In 1882, at age 17, given a large box camera with a microscope attached, Wilson Bentley—a Vermont farm boy—discovered techniques that enabled him to photograph individual snow crystals on glass negatives. “Ice flowers,” as he called them. Nicknamed “Snowflake,” he photographed thousands of crystals while tending his Jericho farm and authoring popular and scientific articles about snow, including a much admired 1931 book that’s still in print.
Of skeptical Vermont townsmen he wrote: “They will get their daily quart of milk. Other farmers will attend to that. But I think I am giving them something which is just as important.”
* These quotes are taken from the book of poems by Inez George Gridley, “Journey from Red Hill,” published by CRS OUTLOUDBOOKS.