It’s not always easy to find beauty during a walk at the tag end of winter in New England. As Juniper, an intrepid 11-year-old Bichon Frisee, and I walked around Fresh Pond, our local reservoir and a place we love, I struggled to notice something other than dry dead leaves, bare branches in a grey sky, and dark tree trunks and shrubbery. No birds sang yet. People I passed were dressed just as drably as the scenery. The picture here from February of a prior year looks positively gaudy by comparison.

Fresh Pond February 2006

Babies helped. Babies are always an easy uplift, and I was lucky enough to see two of them. I also got a boost from passing one of those triangular running strollers in which lolled a girl of about three, sound asleep with her head crooked against the side of the stroller as her dad jogged along behind. For no particular reason, I remembered learning in years ago that French people, some of them at least, believed in putting a baby in her/his pram outside on the porch or balcony at night in the winter to build up their strength, a practice I could never have made myself follow with my own tiny daughter.

A Great Sleeping Eye

Coming back to the moment, I began to notice the water. Not the water held in softened slops of snow that littered the macadam path and woodsy ground, but what I know as “the duck pond.”  This small body of water lies opposite the path from the vastly larger reservoir and is filled with yellow water lilies in the summer. It’s petite, yet large enough for a handful of retrievers to have plenty of room to chase sticks in warmer weather. When not iced over as the duck pond was today, Juniper herself always enjoyed a dip, wading in stately fashion up to her chest whenever there were not too many big dogs splashing in and out or barking at the ducks.

No splashing today, of course, and no ducks. The pond was still frozen. What I appreciated as we paused on our walk, was the way the sable cattails stood out against the background of glittering grey ice, reminiscent of long lashes on a great, sleeping eye.

cattails in winter

The image made me smile. And drew my attention across the way to the 155-acre reservoir from which Cambridge, Massachusetts draws much of its drinking water. What beauty would I see there?

The Winter Shawl

Most of the reservoir still wore a winter shawl of ice, but in what a variety of stitch and shade! At the west end of the pond, the ice against the shore glinted pewter but thinned out as it approached the center and where it thinned, took on tints of green, as if fresher yarn had been dredged up from the depths and added to soften the silvery mantle. Toward the southern end, a large pool of deep green water rippled, free already from the winter’s covering, like arms bared for Spring. Long strands of slushy ice pushed toward the open space in shades of blue, as the ends of the shawl unraveled.

Now I’m thinking ahead, and betting that all the ice will be gone by the ides of March—and I have a process to watch that will bring me back, daily I hope, to catalogue the progressive changes of thickness, texture and hue while I await the greening of spring.fresh pond witch hazel on bare branch first bloom