Friday, February 14, 2014

The wonder of wintering waters

Snow seems to be a constant companion these days, shifting down like flour or in giant floating flakes, painting our world in shimmering strokes of white.

At the seashore, drifts of snow-covered sand contrast mightily with the pulsing Sakonnet, as gray as steel.

Waving noisily in the wind, the brittle, ice-encrusted sea grasses still harbor wildlife in its crusty depths.

This time of year is often described as “the dead of winter,” but the reference is dead wrong. Life is abundant and manifest everywhere even on the coldest of days.

Staring out to sea, I imagine the countless unseen populations of marine life thriving beneath the waves, sheltered in saltwater, warmer than air.

While driving along the coastline, I stop by the side of the road near a farm. Leaving their wooden shelter, two horses with a determined gait trot out into a stonewall paddock, their pasture a field of snow.

The simple beauty of the scene takes my breath away – blanketed animals in a blanket of snow.

Reaching the Sapowet Management Area, a wildlife preserve on the east bank of the Sakonnet River, I marvel at the incredible numbers of geese that have sought refuge in this shallow saltwater bay.

Members of the waterfowl family, our native, medium-sized geese have webbed feet and thick bills designed for filtering small organisms in the water or for grasping underwater vegetation and shellfish.

Geese undergo lengthy migrations between their northern or inland breeding areas and coastal wintering waters.

I watch them patter across the water to get airborne. Wonderful. 

Driving onto the frozen terrain of the preserve, I catch a colony of seagulls unaware. Those offended by my trespass flap their wings in annoyance, but most plainly ignore me.

Despite the frigid temperatures at this estuarine intertidal wetland, the Ring-Billed Gulls congregate on the icy bank, with their white heads and underparts blending into the white world around them.

Their wingtips are black with white spots, their bills yellow with a black ring near the tips.

From December through February, their habitat is our New England coastline, and today they are right at home in this Arctic paradise – and so am I.

“I thank You God for this amazing/ day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees /and a blue dream of sky; and for everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes,” wrote poet e.e. cummings.