It has been quite a day. Got up early, took my work pants out in the yard to pound the dried mud off them, got them covered with mud again feeding the birds and fire. Came in, cleaned up, put on a tie and went to work.

Spent some time in one of the annual mandated training classes — sexual harassment and workplace violence. I learned that, as the chief executive officer, I am pretty much on my own — although even if I did have someone to report it to, I figure it would not help much in the case of a mouse/spider-induced killing frenzy around the office anyway. Spent a little time with some newspaper and TV guys, had a nice talk with our congresswoman, gave a richly deserved award to the County 911 dispatchers, and then finally escaped the yoke of polite society. After beating the latest layer of dried mud off my work pants, I went out and worked on the bees.

Time slows down when I am in the bee yard.

This is, I presume, partially because I slow down. Bees have no ears so they do not hear when I talk to them but they are very sensitive to vibration. Drop something on the hive or bump a frame in a hurry to move it and the girls will take offense, quickly reinforcing the need to be deliberate. No problems today except for one of the ladies that got caught under my sleeve administering the first sting of the year to my wrist. I feel bad making them sting this time of the year when every individual is needed to keep things going until some brood can begin hatching out to swell the ranks.

Other beekeepers I know like to play music as they work. I greatly dislike background music so am not one to have the ubiquitous earbuds blaring directly to my brain. As far as I am concerned, the only really important time to have background music is during a high-speed chase and then it should nothing except the Foggy Mountain Breakdown. My Lieutenant, by the way, disagreed most heartily with this belief when he found I had wired a tape player in my patrol car to come on with the Breakdown whenever the reds were activated.

In any event, the only background I like is out there all the time. It varies with the seasons, but nature sings continuously if you just quiet down enough to listen. Working the bees is quiet business so today it was peepers and wood frogs syncopated by red-wing blackbirds. I was glad to hear the frogs. For some reason our small pond held on to its ice cover much later than usual and much later than others in the area. The wood ducks checked out the nice new nest box my son made for me but did not linger in the absence of any liquid water. Then, a couple of days ago, the ice magically disappeared all at once and the frogs started.

Actually, water is sort of a magical substance and it is a good thing, for without the unique characteristics that distinguish water from every other liquid, it is unlikely life on earth could have ever developed.

Liquids are densest when they are coldest. At a certain temperature, they cease being liquid and become solid which is even denser than the coldest liquid point. That is, all liquids except water. Water gets progressively denser as the temperature drops — until it hits 39 degrees. At this point, it begins to lose density and continues to do so until it freezes into ice. This is why ice always floats.

Floating ice is a good thing. Otherwise, it would sink to the bottom of the pond where it would lie in a huge inert mass with only the surface thawing a bit during the warm weather. As long as it was cold for long enough each year, the steady 50 degree temperature of the earth around the pond would not be enough to have much effect on this giant ice cube and the access to liquid water extremely restricted.

As we put up the wood duck nest boxes, we noticed wood frogs around the edge of the frozen pond. In the way of wild things, they were simply waiting for the magic to happen. As the weather warms in the spring, the edges of the ice begin to thaw as a result of a host of factors from sunlight to flow of meltwater. However, as the water warms toward 39 degrees, it sinks through the rest of the pond water. This has remained at about 40 to 50 degrees. As this happens, this warmer and less dense water is pushed up where it begins to erode the underside of the ice sheet. Under siege from two sorts of energy sources, the ice can disappear very rapidly, sometimes seemingly overnight. This is why we can talk about the “ice going out” on ponds and lakes.

This is the second time the water circulates in this manner. It happens again in the fall as the surface water begins to cool back toward 39 degrees. In addition to moving water, this circulation also stirs up materials from the bottom, bringing nutrients up to the plants and algae close to the surface, making the entire system function very efficiently. This is also why, if the fan-type of devices for keeping docks ice free are used in small water bodies, it can lead to a slower growth rate and lower population of fish and other aquatic animals.

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Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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