An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

January 10, 2010

Safe Inside Our Shells

For the majority of the country the weather has been an above the fold story these past few weeks. Here we have been spared the snowfalls and ice storms, but it has been bitterly cold with night after night of temperatures in the low 20's. These degrees are not unusual for us in the winter, but the earliness and persistence is. I know to many of you in more northerly or westerly areas this may come off as whining, and you may feel I should be grateful that at least I don't have to shovel my way out of the house on a single digit day. Believe me, grateful I am.

It has been cold enough here for the creeks and rivers to begin forming ice, and you know it is cold when salt water freezes. This is not an uncommon occurrence and happens every couple of years, but not so early in the season. It usually takes the water longer to cede its autumn warmth to the cold winter air. Knitting Mill Creek is on the western side of my neighborhood and the surface has frozen from one side to the other. The tides create interesting patterns in the ice, and lacy frozen remains are left on the shoreline when they recede.

This is perhaps one of Norfolk's most stressed waterways due to of its small size, infrequent flushings, lack of filtering wetlands combined with heavy usage. There are quite a few boats kept on the creek, most are (or once were) for pleasure, but there are still a couple of watermen who keep their crabbing boats here. Pollution is a very real issue as well, but not so much from industrial sources or the boats. Most of it is due to fertilizer run-off, dog and goose feces, and whatever gets washed off of the roads when we have heavy rains. So I was surprised to see so many mussels seemingly thriving in such compromised water. Exposed at low tide and attached tightly to their perches, they were sealed shut against the cold.

Shellfish On Ice 2

Shellfish On Ice 4

Shellfish On Ice 5

Shellfish On Ice 6

Fissures 2

Fissures 3

Knitting Mill Creek 1

The first picture in this series is my entry for Gardening Gone Wild's Picture This Photo Contest, January 2010. You can go there and see how other bloggers are picturing their winter, or post your own shot and show the world what it is like outside of your shell.


  1. Good choice. I haven't put mine up yet...similar to yours but without the mollusks. At least with the freezing temps I don't have muddy dogs.

  2. Your photos almost make me want to take a walk to enjoy the winter scenery ... not. If you need me, you can find me in the greenhouse.


  3. Les, such beauty of the ice crystals and formations, nature's design and painting at its best. I love the contrast of the mussels close and clinging amidst the cold and ice. Good luck on your entry.

  4. I love the shots of the fissured ice. That last shot too. Reminds me of New England even though you're in Va.

  5. Les,
    Enjoyed this post. It just does not register that the salt in the water would (doh) slow the freezing. We spent a New Years along the sound near Kitty Hawk, NC one year and I recall walking out on the ice maybe 30 foot or so.

  6. Consistent lows in the 20's and freezing salt water qualifies you for a whine or two, more so if the humidity there on the coast stays high. Nice shot for the contest.

  7. Living in New England we expect frigid temperatures and have been conditioned to rather hard winters. When you are not use to the awful cold and ice it is harder... especially too when your plants may suffer. I do feel for all of you and hope the cold passes and does not get worse, as it is early yet. Les each of your photos is wonderful! Good luck in the contest. I also love your title! Keep Warm. Carol

  8. LIke your winter picture even though it isn't "gardeny". They farm oysters and mussels, though, so isn't that gardening of a sort?

    Mussels are extremely tolerant of all sorts of water conditions, and can even siphon crude oil droplets out of the water, process them and excrete them with no apparent harm. Not that you would want to eat one that had been doing that, mind you.

    Stay warm and remember, spring is coming!

  9. Janet,
    Our major cold weather benefit is not having to beg, plead, threaten or bribe the young Miss Penny to come in the house. She is often ready before we are.

    Suffering from cabin fever, I have forced myself to walk. The dogs seem to be up for a short one as well.

    The ice crystals were indeed amazing.

    Sweet Bay,
    The little harbor is actually quite picturesque. Many of the boats have some age on them and do not go out anymore, but are lived in.

    You seem to have a thing for walking on ice. One of my greatest fears is falling through the ice and not being able to come up.

    The humidity is still here. The first winter I spent in Norfolk was warmer than any other winter I had experienced, but so much more uncomfortable.

    I am not too worried about the plants. We usually get colder temps and hopefully the sustained cold has only had cosmetic effects.

    I prefer my mussells with garlic, parsley and lemon with a glass of wine. I don't think I am ready to try them with crude.


  10. Wow! Impressive! I'm tired of it already. My old barn of a house had lots of charm and leaky windows.

  11. Incredible photos! I grew up on the coast of NH, and these shots remind me of home. There is nothing quite like winter wind whipping off the ocean to remind us that Mother Nature is still in charge!

  12. It looks like a winner to me, Les! I know the mussels filter the bad stuff through their digestive track? I love to eat them but also fear them for the same reason. We are lucky too to not have to shovel out, but it has been pretty dadburned cold here. I think there is a warming trend for this week, back to normal. I hope.

  13. Lovely pictures. Thanks for braving the cold to take them:) Good luck!

  14. Joan,
    I will take charm and leaky windows over mediocrity and an air-tight seal any day.

    We have had one too many reminders of who is in charge this past year.

    More cold than cool. Thanks for stopping by.

    A warming trend? I am not going to get my hopes up, but fingers are crossed.

    There was not too much bravery, I was not out there that long. Plus I have become well insulated recently.


  15. Great photos as always. I am not sure if I've ever seen mussels in situ, so that was wonderful. Doesn't matter if you are not as cold as up here; it feels just as Arctic if it's not your usual weather. We are all excited that it should hit 30 degrees in the next couple of days! Leave your coat and hat at home.

  16. Les, Incredible shots~~I only see the beach in summer time so winter beaches looks so odd to me.

    I think the single digit colds would be easier with some snow;)


  17. Wow! Is this south or did I click on the wrong blog? It is stunningly gorgeous but deadly if you aren’t prepared for it. Good luck with the contest – great entry!

  18. Linda,
    We are supposed to warm to 50 tomorrow. I am thinking about running through the yard nekid.

    Thanks for the complimentary comment.

    The coast takes on a whole new persona in the winter.

    Do not be alarmed, you came to the right place. This section of the creek has now been frozen almost two weeks. Very unusual for us.


  19. Yup, pretty darned cold when saltwater freezes over. You took some gorgeous photos. I think that first one will be very stiff competition for the rest of the entries!

  20. I had no idea that salt water could freeze! Wow, learn something never every day...

    The stroll with you to MANTS is so making me chomp at the bit to get into the garden!

    Loretta, is such a sweet singer. Does she do birthday parties upon request? :)

  21. Tina,
    Thanks for the vote of confidence.

    Loretta is a little shy around strangers, but when she is comfortable she has no trouble belting a tune out.


  22. All the garden bloggers I read, currently out in the cold, have my absolute sympathy during this extremely cold winter.

    Your fine pictures remind me, paradoxically, of the salt flats in Death Valley. Do a Google images search and you'll see what I mean!

  23. Les, the first picture is a very good, but my favorite is the last one. It's very much like a carefully wrought painting. I really like the sense of place that it conveys.

  24. Chuck,
    The resemblance is uncanny. I wonder if the process is similar, but only with different materials.

    Thanks for the kind comments. I had a real hard time deciding what picture to post for the contest. Finally I just picked one of the three finalist randomly.