Sunday, January 3, 2010

Embrace the ice

I will have to confess that I really enjoy ice. I've never smashed up a car, battled ice dams on my roof, had ice squash any docks or watercraft, fallen through the ice (OK, one time), or even really fallen on my ass on the ice that many times. I have had far more good experiences with frozen water than bad ones, and this weekend for my first time , I got to watch Chequamagon Bay freeze over.

My affection for frozen water started at a young age, ice fishing with the old man. He would drill a hole, the water would come gushing up, and we'd clean the ice chips out of the hole with a beat up metal strainer. Watching the cork go under and the bluegill or crappie come up through the hole was very cool for a little kid. He believed, like most ice fishermen, that the fish bit better when the ice first froze over, and I recall shuffling out on a small bay on snowshoes, wearing a Stearns vest, and carrying two pieces broom handle with finishing nails pounded in the end to haul ourselves out if we did go through. I don't recall him ever filling my mother in on this plan. In junior high the ice rink was about the only place you could meet the opposite sex in an unsupervised setting. The bored college guy that manned the warming house pretty much sat inside doing his homework and stoking the wood stove, allowing we outdoor skaters carte blanche. Once the drivers license was obtained, the icey fun multiplied geometrically. If the ice froze solid before the snow fell we could skate for miles and play hockey before the municipal rinks were open. A person could also get a car going 50, 60,or 70 miles per hour, jerk the steering wheel over, and just let er spin down the lake. There is rumor that on one occasion such a car, an AMC Gremlin if memory serves, hooked to the left like a gigantic curling stone being steered by inept sweepers, and clipped the side of a fish house in the wee hours of the morning. This rumor cannot be substantiated however. Other wonderful experiences with ice have involved keeping beer cool and releasing the flavor of a nice highball glass of Irish Whiskey. And I don't even mind the ice that forms beneath my snout on a cold winter day.

Early on in the weekend we checked out the ice in Duluth harbor, ice that had been busted up several times by the USCG ice breakers. The temperature hovered around zero or below (-18C) most of the weekend and the ice was forming. The VOR and I arrived in Washburn, WI, took a quick ski with RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef, and hunkered down for the evening, overlooking Chequamagon Bay. We could see open water on the bay and ripples from wind but closer to shore there were no wind ripples, just a thin layer of ice that was undulating very gently with the small swell. As I sat sipping one of my first Summit Winter Ales of the season, the layer of ice slowly but steadily advanced across the bay and out into the lake. Some might equate watching ice build with watching paint dry or a bridge rust, but seeing the water crystallize was magical. The next morning the hoarfrost and visible bands where the ice was thinner (see top image) had transformed the lake into a completely different place than it was the night before. Swirling lake effect snow made the horizon disappear and the rocks looked like they were on one big white canvas. Before long the ice road will be usable and people can visit the sea caves on the ice. How can you not like that?

1 comment:

Nan said...

Have you read Smilla's Sense of Snow? It has great descriptions of ice forming.