Saturday, January 26, 2008

Have you seen...

I can see my breath.
With each step, there is a “crunch.” The air is dry and near zero.
I am alone in our field this morning.

Faded grasses, bent and broken, shade pockets of snow and cast them barely blue in the early light of day.
Weathered bird houses stand still on tall gray poles, empty of life.
The scores of deep brown teasel heads have been picked clean. On top, only a dusting of white remains. The birds have gone elsewhere.
It would seem that I am truly alone.

But on the berm of the old pond beside me, there is a crystal palace.
Where pillars of white have wrapped the strands of grass. And feathery cushions catch the sunlight with a silvery flash.

The muskrat lives beneath.
Safe and warm.
Except for her breath.

"Have you seen...." is an effort to discover the unusual beauty in things not usually appreciated for their beauty.

Click on image for detail

This dense hoarfrost structure grown from her breath was like nothing I've ever seen before.
And, as I lay on the ground trying to take pictures of it, I could smell what first, I thought was a skunk.
It was her--just within the burrow.

Before and after

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MojoMan said...

No...I've never see - or at least never noticed - such a thing. Your powers of observation are truly extraordinary.

mbharf said...

the photos are extraordinary-words-exquisite. you are a true talent.

Stacie said...

That crystal palace is absolutely stunning. Did I read correctly that that is merely some grass, and the breath of the muskrat living underneath, condensed and froze and created the crystals?

nina said...

Mojoman--this was hard NOT to notice--like a bunch of bottle brushes or feather dusters in the middle of a grassy field.

MB--Hi, stranger, and thanks! You're welcome to visit anytime. It's certainly easier than a plane ticket!

Stacie--Yes, it is simply grass and muskrat breath. Or perhaps moisture from her body, if she entered from under the pond and dried off inside here. At any rate, the humidity that developed in this enclosed space rose through that hole and formed the lovely crystals on the surrounding grass in the winter air.

Stacie said...

That is amazing!

Marvin said...

Don't sell yourself short, Nina. Your observation skills and especially your ability to write about what you've seen are extraordinary. Nature Remains should be mandatory reading for everyone blogging on a nature theme.

cestoady said...

I would second Marvin's remarks -- where else would you see a photo of a Crystal Palace --or know that such an unusual structure even exists ?

DrowseyMonkey said...


Diane said...

beautifully done Nina. Judging from the great response you get on this, maybe I should do more of my postcard series. You have a remarkable talent and it's wonderful that you are sharing your observances with us!

No wonder I keep coming back here!

Diane at Sand to Glass
Diane's Flickr photos

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Love this post Nina. The "breath" photo looks like a feather tree to me. Beautiful.

No I have never seen such a thing. I will enjoy your natural world vicariously. You make it seem enchanted.

Clare said...

Hi Nina,

I enjoy muskrats, their industriousness, their ability to roam far from "home", their time in the water, on land, and underground. And now, thanks to you, the artistry of their breath.

Mary said...

Agreeing with most everyone, no, I have never seen... Thank you for seeing for us. What a beautiful sight. Gosh, Nina, you are really something when it comes to nature and writing. I read this post twice.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful words and gorgeous pictures to go along with them. (We've come to expect that from you, Nina!)

nina said...

Marvin--I'm glad you have this appreciation, too--I just "call it like I see ii."

Cestoady--Yes, in fact, had I not walked past that spot that morning, I never would've seen it--by noon it was gone! (almost making me preoccupied with what else I must be missing every time I'm not out there!)

DrowseyMonkey--Thanks for stopping by! Yes--amazing...who'd have thunk?

Diane--I'm glad you do keep coming back! And I'm always surprised what excites people the most--like muskrat breath.....hmmm.

Lisa--it did feel rather like a fairy tale, especially when you revisit it...and it has vanished!

Clare--I'm thankful there was little snow covering the grasses, or else there would've been no structure for the crystals--so many conditions had to be perfect in order for the artistry to be created! Never again?

Mary--you always have so many interesting things at your blog--I'm glad when you can rest here and enjoy.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Love this, love this. The slower you go the more you get. A brilliant connection between the breath of a hidden animal and the hoarfrost.

Will you please forgive me in this rightfully reverent set of comments? I have a confession.

"Muskrat Love" is now stuck in my head.

Keep it up, I'm hooked. The skull series kills me. Nice photography, nice pellet soaking skills, great great stuff!!!

Cathy said...


Your writing is as delicate - as lovely as the captured breath of that winter-weary muskrat.

Oh, yes. . . the patient day of bone sorting. Perfect.

Thank you.

SLW said...

Exquisite! This is one of those hidden, unimaginable sights Nature puts out to everyone or no one.

With you, I wonder what we're missing when we're not paying attention. Thanks for finding one and sharing it!

Anvilcloud said...

I like you writing, both prose and poetry, and your pictures.

Ruth said...

To the average person, mid-winter is dull, dead, and tedious. You are not an average observer for certain. Beautifully written and photographed!

NW Nature Nut said...

Beautiful and so interesting. The thing I love about this "blog stuff" is how we can all share in each other's nature experiences from all over the world.

April said...

Enjoyed your lovely hoarfrost photos. They look like white feathers.

mon@rch said...

Those are such stunning photos and thanks for sharing them with us !

Sandpiper said...

These pictures are stunning! What a beautiful posting!

nina said...

Julie-- "Muskrat Love" lingered in this household, too.
This morning was another instance of finding something other than what I intended to see.
Glad you enjoyed the pellets...wink, wink!

Cathy--what could be more ironic--the breath of a foul-smelling rodent creating such beauty?!

slw--I returned the next morning for a repeat--it was gone. Yes, once-in-a-lifetime.

anvil cloud--thanks--i've never seen so many crystals

ruth--definitely not dead--alive and breathing!

nw naturenut--I agree--where else can you find another to share muskrat breath with?!

april--they were SO white, and would melt if I so much as exhaled in their direction.

Monarch--thanks, muskrats beat the birds today for my attention.

Sandpiper--white on white was hard--these are even more exquisite in real life.