My kids and I walked to the nearby pond a few days ago looking for ducks. Actually, the kids hopped, skipped, climbed, ran at full speed and cartwheeled to it, while I walked and occasionally prevented serious injuries as casually as I could. My daughter, so excited to share a few bread crumbs she reserved for the occasion. We arrived breathless to find the pond quiet, a portrait of solitude. The water, half-frozen. There were no ducks there at all. They had flown south for the winter. A phenomenon I neglected to consider before we set out. But as soon as it dawned on me, I was quick to explain it to my children who listened with disappointment and fascination. I imagined the ducks basking in the sun somewhere in Spain or Africa, trading stories in their yearly duck gatherings like villagers in a county fair, satiating their desire for new and seldom seen faces without compromising their comfortable familial circles. Chatty, happy-go-lucky ducks bobbing among coconuts and palm trees! Quak!

We walked along the pond’s edge and noticed how beautiful the thin ice was on the surface. I couldn’t stop staring at it, large frozen swathes were etched in a sprawl of intricate scribbles, in some places drawn so tightly that the tangled mazes were nearly three-dimensional. It was a mysterious cursive writing, some divine riddle of cold, time and movement that I strived to decipher. There had to be some underlying rules: Avoid intersecting when possible and never the same line twice? A secret algorithm melting before my gaze. And within the chilled layers above and beneath the writing was every property and color of water imaginable, ranging from quicksilver, to murky dark, to the clearest cobalt in every conceivable form of liquid, frozen and mist. There are clearly forces here at work, imperceptible and relentless. Nature is truly the finest abstract artist. Having already proven its mastery of all the other subjects, this would be the logical next step. You know Nature, always up for a challenge, that show-off.


If that wasn’t enough, a blue heron appeared and stood majestically on the edge of an ice bank. Moving in an oddly fluid ballet of ultra-slow-motion until it abruptly froze. Its head pulled back, poised, a steel javelin in space. An ice bird in its icy world.


We came for the convivial ducks but found a solitary hunter instead, teetering on a frigid canvas slowly dissolving. And nothing was demanded of us but silence.


Text and photos © M.P. Baecker and 2017.