The announcements began early about the “ice” storm coming. There was no general panic. The news had us on the edge, the temperature on the fringe of freezing. We remembered zeroes and single digits and weeks of cold and dark, and for many quiet, except… the trees cracking and breaking on every street, in every yard, in the gully behind my house. They broke sounding like the crack of doom through the cold dark nights and into the daylight, each branch and limb coated crystal clear with layers of ice. Trees we had planted or grown up under their summer shade. Old friends they were.
I was reading Thoreau’s Walden this week thinking about my mother who would have been 100 years old next month and my father who absolutely loved to watch wood burning often calling it his other “TV.” I loved to go cut wood with him and was always reminded that wood heated you three times, cutting it, stacking it and burning it. Thoreau’s first winter at Walden he used a fireplace, then his second winter he used a stove and felt like he had lost a companion when he couldn’t see the face in the fire as before.
The year I retired from Miami High School Earl and I went to Norway and one of my fondest memories is of the great pride every home had of their firewood and how they stacked it. Years later there was a TV channel there showing hours of cutting and splitting wood, then 8 hours of simply a fire burning in a hearth capturing the age old entertainment of staring at a log fire. Thoreau and certainly my dad would have loved Norway.
Walden Pond is 62 acres and was mapped by Thoreau during the winters by cutting ice to measure depth and he found it to be one of the deepest ponds in Massachusetts. Recently Curt Sager, a professor of natural sciences at Paul Smith’s College studied the pond’s “muck” with 24 inch deep samples taking us back to 1,500 years ago. At the 9 inch depth he found the clean lake of Thoreau’s residency.
He found the history of the pond and her changes in the sediment samples he analyzed. The last century revealed extreme changes due to what many scientists are labeling the “Anthropocene epoch” (the Age of Humans), and similar signs are being written into sediments worldwide.
At Walden Pond he found Asterionella formosa and Synedra nana, diatoms evidence of 1920 nutrient pollution caused by human use of the pond and surrounding area by the public. Not too deeply in the muck there is a layer that emits radiation, cesium-137, evidence of the thermonuclear weapons tested during the 1960’s that contaminated every body of water on earth and every person, too.
The next layer was deposited in the pond during 1968 with rotenone, a fish-killing pesticide when county officials killed non-sport fish to stock the pond with non-native rainbow and brown trout.
Ice still forms in December but later than in Thoreau’s time and melt about two weeks earlier.
The researcher found plankton samples with Mallomonas, an alga common in waters around the world caused by climate change and he feels that Walden Pond teeters near an ecological tipping point.
Continued warming in New England could amplify the pond’s phosphorus problems and the processes amplify into a cycle that could lead to a nutrient overload that could kill the pond much like the fear we have for our Grand Lake and the numerous ponds we have in northeast Oklahoma.
Sager believes we are not separate from nature or immune to its laws. We are nature, a truth he came to see through the eye of a pond.
I put another log on the fire and listened to an old Beatles song, Norwegian Wood as I watched the fire and remembered cold icy nights and the woods screaming in pain and wondered: what is the sound of a dying pond or the Grand Lake we have held dear?
Burning to Know the Sound ~
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim