posts tagged with 'ice'
There are lots of places near us that are best explored in cold weather. Or only explored! One of our favorites is the abandoned cranberry bogs just around the corner from our house. The terrain back there is so swampy that even though I've gone back there lots of times I don't have a clear idea of how it all links up, so there are still surprises, and last week we discovered a quick way from our usual path into the bogs. Only the ice was terrible so we didn't risk it very far. After two or three real cold days, yesterday we were ready for another shot!
The ice was still a little nerve-racking, especially the stretches where the snow had melted into slush and then sort of refrozen atop the ice, leaving a strange textured surface where you'd be sliding for three steps and then suddenly sink ankle-deep. While we held onto the intellectual belief that there was strong ice under the weird snow, it was still startling to have the surface give way beneath our feet. But out in the middle of the bogs, the strong sun made the ice smooth and slippery and perfect for all sorts of fun.
Today we ventured out on a homeschool co-op hike. Despite some early interest it ended up just being us and the hosts, but that was ok: they were excited to show off their woods and the little group—just five kids and two adults—felt easy and relaxed. And their woods were worth showing off! There was little ice rink, where neighbors had dammed a stream to make a spot where you can skate around paths through the trees, with Christmas lights hung between them (I want to go back at night... it must look so magical!). There was a playground with fun climbing features made out of logs and tires. And there were big hills in between the marshy spots.
But the highlight of the outing was our last stop, on the shore of the Sudbury River. The river was frozen all the way across—and while we didn't venture out of the little cove where the path left us, there was plenty of good ice to play on. Because the river had been higher when it first froze by the bank there was even a pretty good slope of ice that the kids had fun penguin-sliding down, and when they got tired of that we played soccer with chunks of ice for way longer than I would have expected the kids to last (Lijah's breakdown came only after I said it was time to go home). And I managed to slide a piece of ice all the way across to the opposite bank.
And we still haven't fallen through once in the last two years!
It's been strangely warm around here lately. Very pleasant considered out of context, but hard for me to enjoy because of my existential dread around our changing climate. Also, I like cold and snow! And ice too. So before it warmed up last weekend we took a hike somewhere where I knew we could find ice to play on, and so we did.
Not all the ponds were frozen: even before it got warm it wasn't super cold. But the Old Reservoir in Bedford has just tiny inflow and outflow, and it's completely sheltered by hills and trees, so it freezes beautifully. Plus it's in the middle of a delightfully varied and hilly town forest, so getting to the pond is almost as much fun as playing on it. The boys were minutemen, and shot me about 800 times on the hike in (then I snuck around behind their last ambush and gave it to em good!). But when we got to the ice, martial valor was forgotten. We played some stick hockey, we drew in the thin layer of snow, and of course we slid. I prefer my feet for the sliding, but some of us can commit even more fully.
Because we expected that the ice would be going soon we made the most of it, and walked the whole length of the pond. That should hold our winter exploration longing for a little while... but I sure do hope it gets cold again soon!
For our solstice party, and for our family reading in general, I went looking in the library for a good topical picture book. You know, there are tons of books about Christmas—you can read about Christmas from every possible perspective—but not so much the winter solstice. Last year we read The Winter Solstice, by Ellen Jackson, which is a fine book... but not a story particularly. Nor is it particularly poetic, which seems like a shame given the poetry natural to the season. But this year, when I checked in with Ms. Elaine at the Children's desk she was delighted to offer me a brand new book, which hadn't even made it to the shelves yet: The Shortest Day.
It's by Susan Cooper, the author of the "Dark Is Rising" series, and illustrated by Carson Ellis, and it's fantastic. Cooper's poetry doesn't come from careful word choice but from connecting with the power of the season, which is just what I was looking for a ceremonial read-aloud. And Ellis's watercolor illustrations are a great mix of down-to-earth realism and mythic fantasy—they made me think of a modern children's book version of William Blake. (She's also the author of a pair of picture books that I recommend highly: Du Iz Tak? and Home.)
Of course, I'd love it if some other good writers stepped up to tackle solstice stories. I mean, the magic! As it is, though, the people who care enough aren't very good writers and don't have access to real editors—there's a self-published book about the eight quarter and cross-quarter days at the library, but it's cringeingly awful. But at least now there's one winter solstice book. Maybe I'll buy it for next year.
Our holiday season began back on December 19, when we hosted a solstice party for our homeschool coop friends. A little early, sure, but with the month's schedule full of events we needed to get it in when we could. And if you ask me it was a good day to do it since it was the coldest day of the winter so far (and since)—though some of the guests questioned why the first half of the gathering was a walk in the woods. I said that was the way to experience the dying of the year. Plus, it made our fire all the more welcome!
With the fire roaring I read everybody a solstice story, and then most of the kids ran inside as quick as they could and played in the warm house the rest of the time. That's fine, playing inside is also a traditional midwinter activity—moreso that marshmallows, probably, which is the only thing that kept any of the kids outside.
On the solstice proper we attended a wonderful caroling party bursting with Christmastime cheer and lots of good food (I was also bursting by the time we headed home!). We were among the first to arrive and also the first to depart, due to Lijah's tiredness; but that was fine because it left the rest of us, who did not fall asleep in the car, plenty of time to have our real solstice fire, the one in the actual dark. I promised the boys that they could stay up and keep the fire going all night or for fifteen minutes, whichever came first. As much as we all wanted to stay out longer, that was about right.
We had the police called on us for the second time today (the first was just about two years ago). This time it was Lijah who was running around on the street by himself—our little dead-end street here, the one with five houses on it. Then he went inside. This apparently aroused some concern in a passer-by, who... called the cops? The officer who came by was completely unconcerned; I'm actually not sure he managed to keep from rolling his eyes as he described the reason for his visit. I did feel a little bad that, when he arrived, Harvey and Zion were screaming at each other in frustration after trying to work together to put the hens in. Oh well.
Interestingly, earlier today all three boys had been riding their bikes around the block with a couple friends. But nobody complained about that.
The solstice this year was busy with celebrations: our community group's little party Harvey on Friday evening, two big parties for friends Saturday, and an end-of-the-year picnic at Church mid-day Sunday. Luckily, the Town of Concord scheduled solstice festivities for Sunday afternoon starting at one, so by hurrying we were able to get to the Old North Bridge in time to see mid-summer greeted in style!
Besides the solstice, we were also celebrating the Concord River and its tributaries, so the party was called Riverfest. It's happened for a few years now, but this is the first time we managed to make it—and now that we did, I'm sorry to have missed it before! So many fun things there. We started off making some art; Harvey was feeling grumpy, but the woman running the art table was so energetic and encouraging she drew him out of his funk, and once launched he worked on his project for quite a while. Lijah doesn't have patience for long-term projects, and after a few minutes he decided he wanted to get his face painted. I was amazed and proud to see him handle the whole thing, from standing in line to telling the young woman what he wanted to be (a white bunny) all by himself! The transformation was startling.
Next we listened to (and participated in!) some river-themed kids music. When that wrapped up we went for a little canoe trip downstream... but not very far downstream, because the current was running fast and we didn't want to work too hard on the way back! It felt very companionable with dozens of boats out on the river. Most of them weren't even taking any part in Riverfest, but that didn't mean they were enjoying the river any less! When we got back to the bridge the boys all went for a swim—even Harvey, who chose not to bring a swimsuit along on the trip. Never mind, the sun was hot!
Then it was time for the most exciting part of the afternoon, the cardboard boat race. As tempted as I was to sign us up as participants, I though it would be more prudent to watch one year before jumping right in. So we spent a relaxing hour wandering among the busy teams of cardboard crafters and eating snacks. I think we learned some things about what it takes to get cardboard to float. As the race itself kicked off, we certainly witnessed plenty of examples of what not to do!
As we talked about the festival in the days leading up to the solstice Mama decided that, all in all, it sounded like a little much to her. But as dinner time approached things were pretty calm, so I invited her to join us for dinner (plus, she could bring Harvey some dry clothes!). Some friends showed up just a little later, so the nine of us shared a peaceful picnic while listening to some lovely bluegrass/country/oldies played by an acoustic trio. Well, it was peaceful for the adults and Harvey... the four smaller boys entered into some freewheeling—and occasionally violent!—play with the other young picnickers.
As it started to get dark, the festival organizers started up a fire. While it wasn't totally the solstice bonfire I'd been anticipating, it was plenty big enough to toast the marshmallows they'd thoughtfully provided for smores. The boys wished there was enough to have more than one, but it was a pretty good-sized crowd.
The day concluded with a solstice singalong on the Old North Bridge, while those of us with boats paddled around beneath with candle lanterns glowing. Plus the bubble guy was there to make the atmosphere even more magical. What do you sing at a solstice singalong in Concord, MA? Some Beatles, a couple tunes from Hair, "This Land is Your Land"... stuff like that. As it got dark at last you could even start to see the lanterns.
Then we turned for home. The boys have fallen asleep in the car lots of times; this was the first time they ever did in the boat. We celebrated the heck out of that solstice!
What is our fascination with ice? It seems like every time we head out on a winter adventure we make it a point to find some ice to explore or play on. Especially this winter, where the snow cover is definitely sub-par. We're thankful for the cold weather the last couple weeks that's let us have some fantastic icy excursions.
The children are not fans of ice skating. I can't understand it; to me, there's nothing finer! Maybe they'll work up to it later. For now, there's plenty of fun to be had in just running and sliding. On feet, on knees, on stomachs—the boys have tried it all. They've had plenty of falls too, this and other years, but so far no head injuries. Last week the ice on Spy Pond (pictured above) was as slick as can be, and it was super satisfying to get a good run up and slide for 20 or 30 feet.
We've also been enjoying the ice for exploring. Bedford is a swampy town, so there are lots of spots that are downright inaccessible through the summer. Winter is our time to explore the marshes by our house or the swampland on the edge of the Concord River.
And then there's the thrill of exploring on the ice itself. We enjoy being on the water in the summer, so it makes sense that we're excited to visit those same spots on foot in the winter. On Spy Pond Zion was very happy to get to check out, and stand on, a ball buoy he'd barely been able to touch when we canoed by it back in July. And of course, nothing can compare to standing the middle of the Concord River!
(OK, so we weren't totally in the middle. But we could have been! Probably. As much as I love the ice, I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.)
On Thursday we spent lots of time outside, enjoying in the beautiful weather: clear, dry, seasonably bracing but not frigid. As the boys helped me split wood we talked about how much we would need for the Solstice fire, and about how much fun it would be. Then yesterday the temperature shot up into the mid 60s and it rained all day. No fire; we had to content ourselves with lighting candles at the dinner table and sharing thoughts about the turning of the year. This afternoon everyone was busy with their own things—and I needed some time to myself—so I headed out to do a fire myself. Everything was still pretty soaked, so it was good and smoky and an interesting challenge to get going. Then I watched it for a bit and thought about new beginnings.
We studied historical solstice celebrations some earlier this month (to the extent that we could; the library isn't exactly full of appropriate materials). The picture book we read talked about how midwinter was a scary time for the ancients, not knowing if the sun was ever going to return. We thought that was silly: wouldn't anyone old enough to formulate that question have lived through enough cycles to start to see a pattern?! Let's not sell our ancestors short. But there's no doubt that midwinter is magical moment, full of mystery and promise. All the more so when it coincides with a full moon, like it did this year. I've had a tough time of it over the past year. Watching the fire this evening I have hope that something might be changing.
We don't celebrate the summer solstice as much as we do some other astronomical moments, because Harvey's birthday is at the same time. But we're totally enjoying this midsummer thing nevertheless. The best part is of course all the evening light—so much to play outside for a couple hours after supper. The strawberries are good too. I'm hoping to get the jam done tomorrow. One disappointing thing though: today was the first weekday of summer vacation for the schoolkids here in town, and our boys were really looking forward to playing with their friends all day. But none of them were around—two families on vacation already, and one all jammed up with activities. We didn't do any activities; just read books, rode bikes, weeded, and went to the library.
No, that's not quite true... there was a little more than that. Last summer our complete formlessness was a little trying at times, so I'm trying to hold on to a bit of a schedule even as the weather calls us to wild outdoor adventures (and to lying around on the hammock...). After breakfast we spent some time thinking about how stories are structured, and then Harvey and Zion did some writing/dictating of their own accounts of playing in the rain yesterday. It was fun, and it made the rest of the delightfully relaxing day all the sweeter. A good start to the season; let's keep it going tomorrow!
With the snow mostly melted and some stings of warm days, sometimes it's hard to remember that it's still winter around here. But so deep was December's chill that all the ponds are still well-covered with thick ice, so when Friday dawned cold and clear we thought it would be the perfect day for an icy expedition.
Since we wanted to expunge the memory of the last time any of us were out on the ice, we made sure to prepare properly. That meant that the bicycle was well full of anything we might need. Including a blanket, of course!
The crushed stone bike path was in good shape as we started out, but closer to the pond conditions really deteriorated, and for the last mile we spent half the time pushing the bikes over long stretches where the slush had frozen into a solid—and lumpy!—covering. Not the kind of ice we were looking for!
But we persevered, and eventually made it to Fawn Lake, which was covered in just the right sort of beautifully smooth ice. (The thaws do an amazing job of melting all the snow without really touching the depth of ice coverage—this year is the first time I've ever seen that happen, and it's happened twice already.) We set off to cross right away, but some disturbing cracking noises sent us scurrying back before we made it a third of the way. Never mind, there was lots of fun to be had climbing on rocks and running around the field.
After lunch we recovered our bravery enough to venture a little way onto the ice to investigate a trio of ice blocks some previous explorers had cut out and set on end. The holes they had come from were long frozen over, so we didn't worry about falling in; and they made fine, if chilly seats. Not that we sat for long, since the warm sun shining on the ice made it wonderfully slick. I found I could run and slide on my front for, oh, ten feet or so. Of course, then everyone else had to try it.
Even Lijah overcame most of his nervousness about the curious noises that the ice produced from time to time to be able to take some good slides. Yes, we love ice! Not the kind on the path, though—we went home on the road to avoid that nonsense.