December 28, 2010

Under the ice


All the water on Wimbledon Common was frozen hard on Boxing Day. The small lake near the road looked to be solid to a depth of over a foot, and we walked out gingerly across it.

The water had frozen, melted, and refrozen several times, and the edges were a mass of chunks and shards of opaque ice held fast in a transparent and treacherous lacquer.
Cold water holds more oxygen than warm, and fish require less of it than in warm weather. They were probably at the bottom, far under the ice, in a slow, deep torpor. As long as light can penetrate the ice the pond aquatic plants can continue to respire; a blanket of darkening snow over the ice is worse than a freeze. Amphibians like frogs and news will usually leave water if it is going to freeze, and burrow down into mud or hide in nearby vegetation.  

Closer to the centre the ice was smooth and opaque, and marked all over with the wandering tracks of people, dogs and birds, probably made when a light coating of snow had covered the ice which had since melted and refrozen. They were like the prehistoric footprints found at ancient mudflats and shores around the world, made in a moment and preserved by a freak of weather to become a strange and haunting reminder of life that was recently here, and has now gone.