Mid-Winter Thaw

The so-called January Thaw allows a few days of relaxation before tucking back in to await winter’s worst in the weeks before its inevitable, sloppy death. Snow on the ground forms a crust as its surface melts and re-freezes, hyper-extending the knee joints of those foolish enough to think they won’t break through, while lake ice takes on a rink-like polish as puddles fill in the low spots. Some years the January Thaw waits until February. Last year it never came at all. This year there were two thaws in January and one so far this month alone, so it could well be the case that we’ve actually had four hard freezes in what’s otherwise been a mild winter.

The snow on the ground has amounted to darn near nil this year, forming that icy crust with nothing left over. Fortunately, there has been plenty of rain to smooth it out and create a glaze that, if nothing else, reminds us that gravity is not just a good idea. It’s also the law. Misjudging the trajectory needed to reach the gate of the chicken yard, for example, is a good way to crash into the fence but, by really misjudging it, one can miss the fence completely, drop into a ditch and hit a hemlock a hundred feet down the slope.

Following the contour, scrambling to not lose more elevation before reaching the road, isn’t so bad once one gets the hang of slinging one’s self from tree trunk to tree trunk like a gibbon, providing one’s shoulder sockets hold up for a few hundred yards of that nonsense.

Sometimes, the best strategy is to just hunker down and shelter in place.



As long as it isn’t the one tearing up stuff in the barn, that squirrel is fine. It’s possible there’s more than one squirrel at work, maybe two or three, but they’re into things they ought not be into and they must be stopped. A One Way Ticket to Exile Island could be in order.

Runoff swells streams and raises the lake level, lifting the ice as it does and leaving cracks when it settles as the lake level drops. Between the cracks, the ice sags under the weight of rain puddles, creating ridges that zig-zag from shore to shore.

Puddles and Ridges

Puddles and Ridges

Water, In Several Forms

Water, In Several Forms

Splashing over rocks on its way in and over the spillway on its way out, water freezes into fantastic forms when the air is cold, eroding during warm spells and rain.

Splashes and Drips

Splashes and Drips

Sometimes the rain continues to fall after the air temperature drops, creating icicles that are thicker at their tips than at their attachment points. They freeze above the point where they meet running water, eroding when the water rises, showing cold nubbins when it drops.


Two Stages

The freeze-thaw cycle is not just once around, it’s over and over again, from first freeze to winter’s end. Even the mildest of winters has bitter, brutal days and some nasty cold is due by the end of the week, maybe enough to impress the folks calling to make summer-time reservations on Saturday, but this too shall pass. Relative warmth will return, at least for a few days at a time, and there will be another cold snap or two, repeating the cycle, but soon it will become a near-daily occurrence.

The sap will run and the ice will melt, winter will give way to spring, but for now we slip and slide and watch our step, mid-way, in between.

Somewhere In Between

Somewhere In Between



Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Mid-Winter Thaw

  1. I absolutely love your images in this post! So beautiful. I appreciate winter so much more through photos!

    • Thank you, Laura.

      Ice can be tricky and it changes (sometimes drastically) throughout the season. I didn’t even realize I got the reflection I did in that last photo until late that night. When I went back in the morning to try it on purpose the whole thing was gone.

      Many people say they appreciate winter more through photos but I say, to really appreciate it for what it is, you’ve got to freeze a few boogers. Not that I wouldn’t mind taking pictures of monkeys in the tropics now and then …

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