After my eagle adventure the weekend before last, I stopped at Promised Land State Park on my way home. The eagling had been poor and I knew that I didn’t have any shots that were really worth keeping, save for a couple of the frozen Delaware River. But Promised Land rarely lets me down and the small forest and trail along the river from Promised Land Lake to Lower Lake is a perennial favorite of mine. And since the park is only 10 minutes from I-84, I decided to stop.
It was a good choice!
As is common in the winter, the wind was whipping across the frozen expanse of Lower Lake, driving the snow up into the pine forest on either side of the boat launch. I trekked into the woods, bundled up as much as I could get, following where I knew the trail was even if I couldn’t see it. From the parking lot to the wildlife blind on the lakeshore isn’t far, maybe 100 meters, but for much of it I was up to my boot-tops in wind-driven snow, and the going was slow.
And then, just at the blind, the snow was gone; the wind had driven it all into the drifts I had just passed through, leaving the forest floor almost barren save for a thin coating.
This is the magic of this small patch of forest, a phenomenon I’ve witnessed for several winters. The snow in this section of the park is subject to the merciless wind and drifts more than anywhere else I’ve yet found. But only for a few meters – three of four at most – from the frozen lakeshore into the woods. After that, the trees provide enough of a barrier to protect the snow within, and it lies undisturbed.
But within that boundary area, the elements mingle and the result is a painterly, almost abstract dispersal of snow around and between obstacles. At any moment the drifts may be a foot or more deep, mounded in arched mountains, while only a step away is a valley, down to the bare pine needle forest floor. The whole place has a sort of Swiss alpen feel to it, albeit on miniature.
It’s the patterns that form that interest me the most, not only the way that the snow moves on a large scale – the way that it piles up on the windward face of a tree trunk, but leaves a hollow on the leeward, or the way that it lies in orderly, wavelike rows in some areas, and in random swirls in others – but also the way it moves on a small scale.
The surface of the drifts is etched with tiny patterns, wind-blasted pressure ridges and jagged edges only millimeters in height. You can see them in the photo above, long linear patterns that run across the frozen surface like the lines of a topographic map. It’s hard to imagine them forming, hard to picture the snowflake-by-snowflake motion and collection that must be required.
I followed the shoreline across the boat launch and out to where it begins it’s arc to the east; I passed the tree in the photo below, where a woodpecker has been hard at work in search of protein rich grubs to fuel it on these cold days. As I rounded the point and approached the river’s outflow, the forest became sheltered from the wind and the drift sculptures faded away, although out on the frozen lake itself, the wind continued its work, clearing the ice in some places and burying it in others.
From here it is only a short walk along the river before it makes a right-angle and heads back to the dam and the larger lake across the road; when on foot, this is where I always part ways with it, turning back into the forest and passing through the dense cathedral of pines until I arrive back at the parking lot where I began.
The snow within is even and smooth and out of the wind’s reach, I’m once again warm and content with my visit. I paused one last time, kneeling by a pine seedling in a pool of sunlight, not thinking of forest succession or photosynthesis strategies, but only of the shapes of the pine needles in the shadow against the snow.
Shooting info: E-M5 + Olympus 12-40mm, ISO 200, f/2.8-4. Converted to black & white in ACR via VSCO film.