8:30 am ten days before solstice and the first hints of dawn are lighting the lake. First light tells me that the warming trend overnight has transitioned the thin layer of snow into water, ice and something in between. The lake has been frozen for some time but frequent weather changes keep melting the snow so it doesn't build up to make a good base for skiing. The heavy rains of Thanksgiving raised the level of the lake about a foot, and even flooded the lowlands along the shore. When temperatures dropped and the water receded, we were left with a dangerous false floor of half inch ice with nothing beneath it so that even the dogs were breaking through and many times, I found myself kneeling in the wet weeds when the ice shattered under me.
At last we enjoyed four inches of snow that turned the lake bed-sheet white. On such a tableau we watched coyotes nervously crossing from the southeast corner to the western shore pausing and staring each time I opened the door and walked out on the porch for a look. Saturday, what I thought was a coyote at first glance turned out to be a land otter porpoising through the snow. It too was crossing the lake but seemed not interested in the noises I made shuffling around on the porch with my spotting scope. The otter is not a graceful on land as in the water and in fact it seemed to be trying to swim through the snow like it was water. It would bound and lunge then stop and roll so that it was out in open crossing the lake for much longer than a coyote would have. The white expanse of the lake exposes everything on it including an eagle pair I spotted in the center of the lake, and I could only puzzle at what they were doing there out in the middle of the ice and snow. Maybe something smaller than an otter was crossing and the eagles were not content to just watch as I was.
With the fresh snow we enjoyed our first ski of the winter on the lake this week. We were timid about the ice so we stayed close the to south shore where the water is shallow and going through the ice will be cold and scary but not life threatening. We got a good glide and the dog seemed happy to be in harness skijoring on a crisp day in December. The were alone with the snow and the mountains as we passed the lighted Christmas tree our neighbor puts on the lake each year, following the tracks skiers had left the day before. We skiing east past the house and about the time we thought we ought to turn around, the snow along the shore moved. In fact, a large piece of it lift off and flew away at eye level. "Ptarmigan," I cheered, and then as my eyes and mind adjusted I saw that several of the white grouse were moving through the willows along the shore. We were for a time immersed in a Christmas greeting card of a moment, at once aware of our own well being and the true richness of our surroundings.
Now, as the bleak clouds and shadowed ice dampen the holiday spirit in a way that only people of the north winter can fathom, we wait eagerly for colder, snowy days to make the magic of winter appear at Bear Lake.