Of cattails, algorithms, and contours

I had just finished chores, looked at the clock, and realized that I had an hour or so before the sun would drop behind the mountain, covering the farm in shadow. I grabbed my camera and walked along the stones which form the property line to the east. I walked the width of the pasture and over to the path which leads up the mountain and along the run. I had no time for cairns and little interest in getting my feet wet in any case. It was cold, there was snow in the air, and the wind was up. I kept to the trail. I was looking for signs of life among the rocks and downed trees. Any reveal of color would prove that life stirred beneath the thin layer of frozen soil. Only the faint pastel hues of green and yellow lichens and mosses were in evidence, so I turned for home. I walked passed the pond, it was iced over and covered by a thin layer of fresh snow. The surface looked cold, its uniform whiteness unbroken. I walked the perimeter, clockwise, and became aware of the remains of a few Cattails which poked broken stems through and above the solid surface. The low angle of the sun was casting shadows. When these connected with their opposites (how, by the way, does one correctly refer to that which casts a shadow?) they formed interesting geometries which I liked very much. I was aware that it had been quite cold lately … and that was good, as far as ice conditions were concerned. I was also aware that we had had rain and temperatures near 50ºF as well … and that was not good, as far as ice conditions were concerned. I tried to recall the algorithm which could determine the thickness of the ice given the recent combined influences of precipitation, daily duration of minimum and maximum temperature, mineral content of the spring water which filled the pond, the resulting thickness of the ice and its ability to support my weight. While still contemplating where I had stored that information I stepped onto the surface, which seemed firm enough. As my mind ran through this set of calculations I tried to imagine a contour map of the bottom of the pond. I knew that the north end was quite shallow for some distance and that the remaining sides were very steep. I took another step toward the Cattails and listened carefully. Walking to the very center of the pond probably wasn’t a good idea. I was wearing my heavy coverall and boots, a combination which, I didn’t think, provided much in the way of flotation. I walked back to the near perimeter and proceeded. I was confident and felt that I could kneel to capture the images I wanted. I knew this would lower my center of gravity, but wasn’t sure whether this would also increase my risk of breaking through the icy surface. Having captured what I thought were some nice images I straightened up and continued walking … perhaps three or four feet out from the edge. When I reached the southern most point an alarm went off telling me that the topographic analysis had been completed and that I was, at that moment, standing at a point where the pond was deepest (14′) and the walls were most shear such that if I had fallen through I would have plunged, over my head, into very cold water. As if on egg shells I walked toward the edge. Why, if we walk tip-toed, do we think we exert less pressure on the substrate below? Although I do not know the answer to that question suffice it to say that I walked quickly and on tip-toes. Once I had secured the top of the berm it made me chuckle to think that during those brief moments when I thought there was some danger of my descending through the ice, my thoughts focused on how I would have quickly thrust the D600 high up over my head. I had a very good laugh imagining a picture of a D600 resting atop the layer of ice clutched by a pair of hands frozen solid, which were connected to me … submerged … doing my best to keep my camera dry!

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