READY OR NOT: THE LOOK OF WINTER ARRIVES AT HARVARD FOREST
It was obvious from the first hours this morning: Today was the beginning of the new season, no matter what the calendar says.
Only the oaks held on, and the beeches, to leaves mostly brown now. But their color was rich against a new sky: polished and clear, without the haze of summer. The cold air just won’t hold as much moisture, and the refraction of the light is different, brilliant. Yes: this was the light of winter, low, and polished.
The ground underfoot was hard; frozen? I swung a leg over the fence to check out the cow pasture, taking advantage of their move across the lane for fresh grass. Sure enough: my feet crunched glittering frost, and there was a soft fuzz of ice on the cusps of fallen leaves. The pond in the pasture was frozen: first time this year. I walked to the upper pasture and hopped the fence again, crunching through icy puddles. They would be melted long before noon, but there they were, a percussive punctuation of our seasonal change.
A tearing wind over the weekend with gusts above 30 mph had transformed our world. All the red, the gold, the gleaming yellows, they were mostly gone, as the trees stood against a deeply blue sky, calm now, with the wind died before dawn. I arose at the sound of the quiet, to see a night sky sharp with stars.
At daybreak I walked up to the Barn Tower to see what leaves were left on my tree and was glad to see a little less than half of them still there, bright against the blue of the sky. I hadn’t seen the understory this washed with sunlight — with most of the trees now bare — since last year.
I went back later in the morning, with John O’Keefe, as he made his weekly survey of the seasonal progression of the trees we watch through the spring and fall. We pushed and pulled aside branches and small trees tumbled from the weekend’s big blow. Hayscented ferns I had watched all season were in crumpled, crisp heaps of gold, their fronds dried and crumbling.
On his clipboard, John ticked off tree after tree, checked out now for the year. We’ll only do this tree survey a few more times, as the forest tucks in for the winter.
The vernal pool at the Hemlock Hollow was brim full from the recent rains — and here was another big change: long, straight crystals of ice, jackstrawed with the clustered needles of white pine. Another note in a morning overture to our coming winter.