Cue the Emperor of the North

Skim sea ice reforms on Greenwich Cove, January 21, 2013.

Skim sea ice re-forms on Greenwich Cove, January 21, 2013.

I’m falling in love with the cove.

Part of that is recognizing that, at least at present, I’m better off walking than running. I’m capable of the 2-mile jog past the water that I did last year forty or fifty times. But it meant I didn’t get a chance to drink in the cove’s wonders as I have more recently.

I would be too winded, too distracted by my discomfort, for one thing. For another, I would be rushing past something that I hated to rush past: the coast. Finally, in my running mania, such as it was, I failed to notice that a loop past the main, somewhat glitzy marinas is not the best way to appreciate the natural beauty of the cove. For that, you’ve got to make the turn toward the less glamorous marina, the one whose proprietor sleeps in a cottage, burning the old lumber that he stacks outside his door.

It was about 7:20, not long after sunrise, as I started the trek from our back door, to the driveway, to the street. The light was muted, with milky mid-level clouds and thicker stratus clouds alternately cloaking and revealing the yellow-white disk of the Sun.

It was cool, or cold, depending on your point of view: 19 degrees Fahrenheit.

The walk through our town’s streets was effortless. I bounded through a strip of upper-crust historic houses, across Main Street with its quaint, and less quaint, shops, next through a part of town that Springsteen would recognize, then across the Amtrak lines, and then to the right, down a steep, tree-lined stretch of  one-and-a-half-lane road.

The cove, first visible just before crossing the train tracks, was on the left now. The water was steel-gray, ruffled by a wind I wasn’t yet feeling. My legs seemed to drive themselves as I passed the last marina and approached one of four or five knots of swans. Most had their heads buried in a wing, out of respect for the cold. A few bravely fished.

Twelve or fifteen Canadian geese began trumpeting as they began an oval-shaped surveillance (or alarm, I’m not sure) flight around the shore.

Whereas yesterday all of the sea ice was gone, it had begun to appear again overnight, in the last hundred yards of the cove, a thin, broken covering, about a couple of acre’s worth if you added up the pieces.

Most of the scene, by the same time tomorrow, will be cast in white. If the ice grows sufficiently during the day and night, it will catch some of the snow that falls and turn the swans’ wet home into an Arctic conundrum. Where to fly?

Six or eight swans take flight as I turn for home, their wings beating the water in loud ruffles. And now I realize: the ease with which I made the walk to the cove’s end arose, in part, from the fact that I was walking with the north wind at my back. How many times I have been humbled by a barely noticed wind until turning for home (as a runner, a rower, a walker, and a biker)!

Today, not only is making progress a little harder as soon as I start to retrace my steps, but my face tells me that the morning’s softness was illusory, at least in part.

The wind cuts through my pants, making me wish I’d worn long johns or some such. My face complains (“Wo, what were you thinking of heading out on a day like this, bub?”), but within a minute or two my new reality seems normal, and good again.

The grays and browns dominating the views of the cove this morning will seem a distant memory not only for the swans tomorrow but for the townspeople, too. A world of shiny, Arctic wonder is coming. As they say, the Emperor of the North likes to make his appearance on a carpet of white.

About Harold Ambler

I am a lifelong environmentalist. I started my journalism career at The New Yorker, where I worked as a copy editor. Since then, my own work has appeared in The New York Daily News, The National Review Online, The Atlantic Wire, The Huffington Post, The Berkeley Daily Planet, The Providence Journal, Brown Alumni Monthly, The Narragansett Times, Rhode Island Monthly, and Providence Business News.
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