what goes up

When you live beside a wide-open lake, you can’t really tell yourself “It’s a dry cold.” Even on Tuesday morning, with the temperature at –17°C, plenty of moisture rose from the warm waters and condensed on any handy object – tiny dust particles in the air, for example, or leaves and stems in the waterfront marsh.

Reed – February 13, 2018 (click images for larger views)

In the most sheltered areas the frost formed feathery trees more than a centimeter long, but in windswept areas the frost was reduced to tiny glittering crystals.

Steppes – February 13

 

Summer Red – February 13

On warm afternoons strengthening rays of sunshine patiently worked through the thick coatings of ice over driftwood logs.

Window – February 12

One at a time drops of water formed at the ends of the icicles, pausing before splashing to the pebbles.

Counting Time – February 12

 

Snowy Geese – February 10

And sometimes the clouds of vapor over the lake come right back down as wet snow. That doesn’t seem to bother our resident geese at all.

Blue Light – February 10

 

Photo at top: Shadow – February 12 (click here for larger view)

the beginning is nigh

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Warm rain … soggy ground … the smell of wet soil, old leaves, and new shoots of green. It’s felt like spring in Port Darlington – but since it’s still January, other possibilities are more likely. Something is just over the horizon – but is it a deep thaw, a snow squall, a sunny afternoon, or another cold spell?

Lines – January 26, 2018 (click images for larger views)

After ten days of unseasonably warm weather nearly all the shore ice has disappeared from the harbour. The snow on Bowmanville Marsh has melted in the rain, frozen at night, and gone soft again the next day.

Photosynthesis II – January 26

While warm days in winter often come with dull, cloudy skies, there is still colour to be found embedded in the ice. Leaves, sticks and feathers stand out against the surface, and sometimes fine crystals of frost capture the hue of sunrise and sunset.

Papyrus – January 27

 

Winter Rain – January 24

 

Leather Shines – January 24

 

Shade – January 26

The week-long process of snow drifts condensing to slush, then finally turning to hard ice, has created a surface rich in topography. (Or poor skating, if you want to look at it that way.)

By the day’s last light, if you squint your eyes just right the marsh ice looks like the skin of a far-away land.

Red Planet – January 28

On a warm and quiet morning gulls and geese gather in the centre. The layer of water atop the thin ice makes for good reflections, but walking through this slick puddle is a tricky business.

Congregants – January 27

 

Curl – January 27

 

Pair – January 29

Back in the shallows of the harbour suitable floes are now scarce, but this fisherman is enjoying some prime real estate.

Outpost – January 29

 

Top photo: Floatation – January 28 (click here for full-size image)

horizon

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Immovable object, meet irresistible force.

Mid-winter thaws soften the shore ice, brisk winds move the floes around the bay, and each morning we greet a new coastline.

Overhang – January 16, 2018 (click images to see larger view)

The massive frozen shelves grow icicle beards in the cold spray day after day, then suddenly topple as waves undercut them.

Tilt – January 6

Shore ice reflects the many tones in the winter sun’s low rays, while also picking up colours from sand and silt which freeze into the mix.

Blue Bear – January 17

 

Bubble – January 17

Incoming waves meet other waves bouncing back from the ice shelves. The resident buffleheads steer clear of shore to avoid the turbulence.

Rollin’ – January 17

In a rare moment when all the snow has blown off a small patch of frozen beach sand, the multicoloured grains form an otherworldly landscape.

Sandstream – January 14

In a small clearing in a cedar forest, all boughs pick up a fluffy load of new snow. But the sheltered cove also soaks up the heat of sunshine and the white hats shrink hour by hour.

Red Seed – January 4

 

Top photo: Island – January 5 (click here for larger view)

point of light

Some of us like to explore new geographies when we go on vacation. The wonderful thing about a cold winter on Lake Ontario is that the shoreline takes a new shape every day, and each day’s excursion becomes an exploration.

Just three days ago a fierce wind was pushing huge waves our way.

Winter Waves  – January 2, 2018, 3:30 pm (click images for larger views)

But after a day of new snow and gentle breezes, slush and ice chunks drifted into the bay and then froze into place.

Icefield – January 4, 8:45 am

These expanses of ice may look dense but that is often deceptive. Imagine quicksand, with some hard chunks of ice thrown into the mix. A good way to learn about this is to step through the snow and ice in a spot where the water below is waist-deep or so – deep enough to fill your boots with icy water – and do it in a place where you can walk home before your feet freeze. (A bad way to learn is … well, let’s not go there.)

Bridge – January 4, 9 am

 

Gravity – January 4, 9 am

By Friday morning, after a night with windchill of –35°C, the new coastline was deeply carved with new fjords.

Blue Light of Dawn – January 5, 8 am

 

Shelter – January 5, 8 am

 

Flow – January 5, 8:30 am

I love these mini-vacations just a short walk from home, but for our newest neighbour this truly is foreign territory. Will our Snowy Owl find enough to eat to stay warm in these new environs?

Profile – January 5, noon

Lemmings are scarce in these parts but there are lots of rabbits and smaller birds. During Wednesday afternoon’s snowfall I was pleased to see the owl sitting in the middle of the frozen marsh, working on a meal. When she had moved on I found a few bits of red meat left on the snow, along with what appeared to be a duck’s foot. The next morning three crows were polishing off the remains.

Marsh Diner – January 3, 2 pm

For all my efforts so far I have failed to snap a clear picture of the Snowy Owl in flight. Yesterday just before sunset, however, as the owl waited far out on the breakwater, a beautiful treasure came drifting by along the snow, pausing here and there before a gentle puff of wind carried it away.

Soft Landing – January 4, 4:30 pm

 

Top photo: Points of Light (click here for larger view)

what a difference a day makes

We think of ice as solid, stable, slow to change, especially during a record-breaking cold snap. But on the shoreline of Lake Ontario the ice is always dynamic, changing from day to day and from hour to hour.

Waves pushed by a stiff wind can shatter and dissipate a thick sheet of shore ice overnight – or the spray from breaking waves can add many layers to that ice.

Just Before Dawn – December 28, 7:45 am (click images for larger view)

The steam that rises from the relatively warm lake water billows up to the clouds – or freezes against any solid cold surface.

Steamship – Dec 27, 9 am. This freighter was approaching the St. Marys Cement pier.

Through the cold weather, year-round resident water birds – Canada geese, mute swans, and several species of ducks – continue to feed in the shallows.

Ducks in a row – Dec 28, 8:40 am

Not so common is a bird that sometimes travels from the north along with the Arctic air. This Snowy owl (likely a first-year female) was bathed in the warm light of sunset on the breakwater.

Snowy Owl – Dec 28, 4:25 pm.

On the pebbles and the icicles right at the shoreline, water cycles through all its states continuously. Water vapor rises from the lake, condenses into mist, freezes into hoar-frost or solidifies into clear ice, before a wave or two washes across, either melting the ice it touches or freezing into thicker ice.

Frost Forest – Dec 28, 9 am

Even on the surface of the Bowmanville Marsh where no liquid water is to be seen, the ice changes hour by hour.

Morning Feather – Dec 27, 9:30 am

Though the temperature only rises to about –10°C, the weak winter sun dries the ice crystals off this tiny feather. And the feather, in turn, shapes the solid ice beneath it, catching and reflecting just enough warmth to carve out a tiny crater in the ice before the cold night returns.

Evening Feather – Dec 27, 5:05 pm

What a difference a day makes.


Top photo: Morning Flight, Dec 28, 8:05 am (click here for larger view)

Pebble Beach

One of the richest lodes of gemstones in the known universe can be found along the north shore of Lake Ontario – but only when the conditions are just right.

With the sun shining low on a cold winter’s day, and soft waves lapping over the icy stones, brilliant gems are scattered profusely.

Sandfish – Dec 13, 9:40 am (click images for full-size view)

Of course there are many other beautiful sights at the beach on such lovely days. The frozen sand can be hard and smooth, or scalloped into terraces. Steam rises off the warm lake water, swirling up to the clouds or disappearing in thin wisps that catch the sunlight.

Blue Shift – Dec 13, 9:15 am

But the stones hold a special fascination – especially since each wave might lift off the icy covering of one pebble, or roll more colourful gems from the shallow waters onto the beach.

Still Life – Dec 17, 10:40 am

 

Egg One – Dec 17, 10:40 am

 

Egg Two – Dec 17, 10:40 am

Still, on a winter walk to pebble beach you don’t want to look down at the ground all the time – if the air is crisp enough you may be treated to an icy rainbow – a sundog formed when the sunlight is refracted by tiny plate-shaped crystals floating above the horizon.

 

Sundog – Dec 14, 8:30 am

Top photo: Redstone – Dec 17, 10:10 am (click here for full-size view)

The autumn of winter

Red-wing blackbirds, finches and grackles are returning. Raccoons and skunks are making their rounds at night. How do they all know it’s spring? For the last few days it hasn’t been the warmth of the air – it must be the warmth of the light.

 

‘Stalks’ (click image for larger version)

 

‘River’

 

‘Light Curves’

 

‘Raccoon Road II’ (click image for larger version)

 

‘Contemplation’ (click image for larger version)

 

‘Alternation’ (click image for larger version)

 

Top photo: ‘From a to b’ (click here for larger version)

Where the rubber hits the road: biking in all seasons

Also published at Resilience.org.

The fifth annual Winter Cycling Congress, held February 8–10 in Montréal, brought together 375 participants from nine countries and included dozens of presentations and workshops.

It would be impossible to cover the whole Congress in one blog post, but one way to summarize the progress of winter biking would be with this, only partly tongue-in-cheek, exhortation:

“Take heart, stalwart cyclists – The Suits have arrived!”

While the momentum of all-season cycling has been building slowly for decades, progress has accelerated greatly in the past ten years. One result is that city governments across the northern hemisphere are working not only to add new cycling infrastructure, but to keep the bike lanes cleared and safe through the winter.

The Winter Cycling Congress included presentations by several professional consulting firms who design cycling infrastructure in northern cities, villages and rural areas, addresses by big city mayors and members of Parliament, plus input from maintenance experts with experience in widely varying climates.

Can you ride through the winter? Yes, you can.

While bikes have obvious appeal as healthy, low-energy, sustainable transportation tools, in many countries the bicycle’s positive impact will remain limited if people feel they can’t ride in the winter months. If city planners try to build adequate infrastructure for large numbers of cyclists in summer, but still need to accommodate all residents via alternate transport methods in winter, then our overall transport systems will remain costly and inefficient.

What are the main barriers to wider adoption of winter cycling? First, let’s deal with a common, silly objection: people can’t ride when it’s cold. This is absurd because people happily do many other activities outside in winter: ice skating, hockey, snowboarding and skiing, for example. Furthermore, all preceding generations up until about 100 years ago managed to get around in winter without being chauffeured in heated canisters. Dressing for the weather is not rocket science – our Neanderthal forebears were able to figure it out.

So when the cheap gas and diesel run out and there is no choice but to adapt to a low-energy transport system, humans will once again rise to the challenge of putting on long underwear and warm hats, without considering themselves heroes for doing so.

Today there are planning consultants gathering data in many cities, asking what are the major factors that keep people biking in the winter, and what factors make them stop.

Tony Desnick of Alta Planning discussed the results of an international survey. When respondents were asked why they decided to ride in the winter, the most common response was “I started biking and I didn’t want to stop.” (That certainly rang true with me. When I started riding a bike in Toronto in the summer of 1979, I had no expectation of riding all year. But as the months rolled by I liked biking more and more. Soon a whole winter had gone by – and now it’s 38 winters.)

When summer-only cyclists were asked “What will take you off your bike?” sixty per cent cited poorly maintained infrastructure, said Desnick.

While cities around the world are learning that provision of protected bike lanes results in immediate boosts in cycling, winter cities are also learning that a substantial share of cyclists will happily ride through the winter, as long as bike lanes are maintained.

Thus cities such as Minneapolis and Montréal now regularly clear at least some bike lanes promptly after snowfalls, with bike-lane plows going out even before most streets are cleared.

The downtown Montréal neighbourhood of Villeray is home to many cyclists, and now has a protected, well maintained bikeway on Rue Boyer, shown at right. (Click image for larger view)

The leader in taking care of winter cycling facilities is the small city of Oulu, Finland, which hosted the first Winter Cycling Congress in 2013. Though the city is just 150 km south of the Arctic Circle, about 42% of its 200,000 residents keep cycling through the winter, said Winter Cycling Federation vice-president Pekka Tahkola.

The steadily cold winter actually makes cycling and path-maintenance easy, said Tahkola. Maintenance crews leave a thin layer of snow on the paths, this quickly becomes well packed, and cyclists have good traction even without using studded tires. With few thaw-freeze episodes, there is no reason to use road salt so paths and bikes stay clean.

Most temperate-zone cities face tougher challenges, exemplified by the freezing rain which turned to slush and then bumpy ice throughout Montréal during the conference – conditions that are increasingly common due to global warming.

Yet federal politicians, municipal staff, and planning firms from cities such as Calgary, Winnipeg and Copenhagen are helping to ensure that bike infrastructure is not forgotten when winter maintenance programs are designed – and winter ridership is increasing as a result.

Clockwise from left: British Columbia MP Gord Johns has introduced a private member’s bill calling for a National Cycling Strategy in Canada. Anders Swanson of Winnipeg promotes the annual Bike to Work in Winter Day. Mikael Colville-Anderson of Copenhagenize Design Company discussed a major cycling infrastructure initiative in the Russian city of Almetyevsk. (click image for larger view)

Though city governments and planners play a crucial role in these efforts, often it is the activism of determined cyclists which prompts action. Becca Wolfson of the Boston Cyclists Union told the story of the city staffer who wrote that cyclists who want to bike in winter “are living in the wrong city”, and they only represent “.05% of the people” anyway. The response was a well organized campaign on Twitter, with pictures of the winter bike commuters holding signs saying “I am the .05%” or simply “#WinterBiker”. This year Boston is making it a high priority to clear major bikeways of snow.

Nadezda Zherebina discusses the growth of cycling in Russia which has resulted in regular bicycle parades in Moscow, including one in January 2017 when the temperature was –28°C. At the conclusion of the conference, it was announced that Moscow will host the 2018 Winter Cycling Congress. (Photo by Anne Williams, courtesy of Winter Cycling Congress Facebook page).

From downtown cores to the suburbs and beyond

Nor have winter bike activities been confined to major cities. Darnel Harris discussed a program to boost cycling in Toronto’s far-flung suburbs. These areas now tend to have lower housing costs than downtown, and are home to many people who can’t afford either condos or cars. Yet these areas also present major barriers to mobility and accessibility, with high-speed arterial roads, infrequent buses, and schools and stores that are too far from homes for walking to be a practical mode of transport. Among these communities, Harris said, cargo bikes have a particular appeal.

Other presentations dealt with a state-funded program to design biking infrastructure in rural Montana, and a project to connect two small villages in Finland with a safe and attractive bikeway.

Thank God It’s Friday!

But enough of traffic statistics and commuting modal share trends. Some of us also bike in the winter for pure fun, and the week ended with a special treat.

Though the conference officially closed at noon on Friday, about 25 lucky souls from at least five countries took a bus out of town to the great cycling facilities in Bromont. Here we were fitted with fat bikes before heading out on the snow-covered trails. Though we bundled up to stay warm in the –15°C temperature and stiff breeze, most of us soon started shedding layers as we pedaled up hills, slid around hairpin curves and dodged trees. As a conference finale, this was hard to beat.

 

Top photo: Although Montréal’s bike-share system, Bixi, does not operate in winter, conference organizers from Vélo Quebec made arrangements for participants to use Bixis in a variety of outdoor workshops. Here a group leaves the conference venue for a tour of Montréal’s maintained winter bikeways. (Photo by Anne Williams, courtesy of Winter Cycling Congress Facebook page).

Sideways Glances

With sunlight in short supply in southern Ontario for the past month and spring greenery still at least six weeks away, it’s been a challenge to capture much colour in outdoor photos. But that makes every brief break in the clouds all the more precious.

These panoramas were composed in the old-school, 1990s way (pieced together in Photoshop from several shots) rather than the new-fashioned way (waving a smart-phone camera at the landscape and choosing the “create panorama” function).

 

Waterway, Saturday afternoon, February 4 (click here for large version)

 

Breakwater/Snowshower, Monday morning, February 6 (click here for large version)

 

Seating is limited, Monday afternoon, February 6 (click here for large version)

 

Top photo: Winter’s Dawn on Bowmanville Marsh, Saturday morning, February 4 (click here for large version)