Clear as glass, the first ice of autumn glazes and graces the surface of the pond. Wind ripples the open water, but not the ice. Ice is calming, chilling, gripping, even when wafer thin and meters wide. It might crack and form a floating veneer, a transparent iceberg, awaiting its fate in the new day. Maybe sunlight will melt it back to water. Maybe the chill will lock it tight to more ice, maybe where it started, or maybe on the other shore.
Starting last night, ducks were faced with a decision about the ice, and they divided into factions. Some sculled their way within the open water, staying away from the ice, staying warm with layers of fat and feathers. Others stood or sat on the solid surface of the ice, huddled against the chill. Their feet are marvels of thermal exchange, keeping the warmth in the body core, letting the feet cool down. (How come the feet don’t freeze and fall off? I don’t know.)
But unless my eyes deceive me, one group of ducks has found another option – floating on their legs. These ducks are shin-deep in water in the middle of the pond. They appear to be suspended, their feet invisible below the surface, but the rest of them quite stable above the surface.
How can they do that? Though I can’t confirm it at this distance, they seem to be on ice so thin that their collective weight bends it down below the surface of the liquid water nearby. They have driven the solid below the liquid and are standing where no ducks should be, motionless, snoozing in the early light. Duck density has struck a balance with ice buoyancy.
Thus begins the winter interplay of ducks and ice, the open water shrinking, disappearing in the deepest cold, renewed in thaws. The birds swim in the liquid, but hang out on the ice. If the ice is wide and thick, they will leave for warmer places and return only when the water opens up again, probably in spring. But today, spring is a long way off.