The End of Winter, 2009
It snowed about a week ago, blanketing the icy crud that was the remnants of the winter of 2009 up until that point. It was cold and the weather held for much of the week. There are many kinds of snow, but this fresh coat was the best kind. It was powdery and dry, but without being fluffy and prone to the wind. And as the temperature started to rise at week’s end, the snow was quickly eviscerated, leaving fallen branches and snowplow ejecta wildly arranged in the diminishing piles.
I feel the same urgency to spring as everyone, but I suppress it. I love winter and snow. I love all the seasons. I want to experience them completely, not weakly. And so I’ll take the late season snow with delight. It’s still early March yet, and experience tells me there’s going to be a few more surprises on the way to May.
The photo above and the next two were taken at Dugger Park in Medford. When you drive past this park you wouldn’t think there was anything special about it. In fact, you might think the opposite. It looks a little rough around the edges. But it’s a consistently good location for taking pictures. I’ve taken a lot of photographs here over the past several years and am amazed at the variety of settings this one place can produce. It helps that it’s located on the banks of the Mystic River – if the park doesn’t capture your attention, something on the river certainly might. These park benches are untouched since the snow of last week, and I’m fascinated by how it melts. It has randomness and consistency intersecting in the most amazing way. I love settings like this because there is just no way to conjure this image up – nature provides an example in something as simple as the melting snow to make us slow down and think about the complexity of the processes all around us.
In the summer, this park has a fountain that sprays water out in a half-shell pattern. Now, though, the snow flows like glaciers down the steps and slides of my children’s favorite structures.
Snow is an obvious way to capture the beauty of winter. In a long, heavy New England winter, it’s also a chronometer. Not this snow, which is light and ephemeral, but the mounds of snow piled up by plows and front loaders. It will stay and slowly melt long, long after the grass has been revealed for good. So I have to look very hard to find scenes of beauty in what remains of the winter snow. This scene, from the City Hall parking lot in Medford Square, is an egregious, if not typical, example of what we’ll see until we get the next fleeting snowfall.
Perhaps the magnitude of this scar of snow, sand and detrius is best observed from behind it.
You might think that since the top of this snowbank is dark, that it would absorb heat and speed the melting process. I think the reverse happens. Whereas sand spread lightly over a snowy sidewalk helps to melt it, sand and refused layered on top of a snowbank seems to insulate it. We all know a block of ice melts more slowly than a thin sheet of it. But a block of ice covered by something melts even more slowly than one that is bare. But it does melt, and as that happens, all of the stuff that is mixed into the snow finds its way to the top of the pile. The photos below are all from this one snowbank. The blue object in the third photo below is actually a chunk of painted asphalt from the street. Snow, salt, sand and snowplows are pretty hard on the pavement and we’ve all seen pieces of the street thrown up on top of snowbanks at the end of the season.
But if you look hard enough, there is beauty to be found. This view of the snowbank is quite low to the ground. The sense of scale falls away. It could be the front-range of the mountains somewhere, or the advance of a glacier towards a calm lake. It is, of course, just the crufty old snowbank reflected in the muddy water of the parking lot.
But there’s another way to mark the time in the winter. The ice. I went to the Spy Pond playground today with my kids and the playground there is open for business. No snow to be seen anywhere, as is also the case now in Dugger Park.
Spy Pond in Arlington is still mostly frozen on top, although nobody would dare walk out on it. The ice doesn’t meet the shore anymore and is beginning to break up. And like our neighbors to the north, we take advantage of it. The two most prevalent activities are ice fishing and skating. It’s not uncommon to drive up Route 2 after a big snowstorm and see the owners of the houses on the shore using their snow thrower out on the ice to clear a patch big enough to slap down a couple of nets and have a hockey game.
And now, as the winter starts to fade, the ice begins to melt, but it melts in proportion to its condition while frozen. The makeshift rinks, well, they don’t have the same snow cover and so they thin out first, creating quite a spectacle, at least for a few days.