The Sarsaparilla Trail in winter seemed like just several loops of well beaten pathways and a bunch of greedy Chickadees. The observation dock, scene of so much wildlife activity spring, summer, and fall, looked out over an unbroken expanse of snow over ice. We fed the Chickadees, and then marched out into the middle of The Big Pond. The snow out there was completely unmarked by humans, animal tracks, or even the touch of recent winds, and when we sat down for lunch, no Chickadee or squirrel dared come out so far for handouts. But there was something Rob figured we could see only there.
Rob remembered that in 1974, the ice on this pond had been 20 inches thick. In this era of global warming, with average temperatures 1ºC; higher than they were back then — indeed, in a year when January temperatures had run about 6ºC above normal, and today’s (at +12ºC) was 16º above normal — how thick would ice in the same place be? We started chopping.
It turned out to be slow work, and pretty soon everyone was eating lunch while Rob, Ulyses, and Samantha took turns swinging the axe. They broke out big chunks of ice, which were full of bubbles. That meant the ice had formed mainly by water seeping into snow, rather than water freezing directly. Finally, Ulyses punched through and hit water, which slowly welled up. The ice was a foot thick, little more than half what it was in the mid-1970s.
Rob’s curiosity now satisfied, we toured the northern margin of the pond where the tracks of an Otter showed how much it loves to slide along on its stomach, and flocks of Robins (more than 30 birds seen) had found food in muddy seeps below the beaver dam.