Notes from an ice watcher - Viki Mather

By: Sudbury Northern Life Staff

 | Dec 21, 2012 - 3:11 PM |

It was a wet and dreary December ... until early last week. It took just one frigid, calm night. Next morning, I woke to ice at the shoreline. 

Suddenly, I am ready to embrace the cold. The landscape has changed. Winter has truly arrived.

Ice stretched from this side of the lake to the island a half kilometre out. Crystalline clear, it sparkled in the morning sun. Mist rose beyond the island and to the north and south. Open water breathed its remaining warmth into the still, morning air.

The mist barely moved as it rose, ghost-like, as it drifted across the new ice. Feathery “jack frost” crystals precipitated on the thin new ice. 

As the morning light brightened, I could see that not all was frozen between here and the island. Scattered pockets of deep black water resisted the ice. A small morning breeze drew sparkly wavelets across these puddles.

Over the next few days, the weather was cold, then warm. It snowed, then rained. Another chunk of the lake froze over and the puddles disappeared, but waves in the distance kept the larger body of water alive.

The view was all white after the snow. Yet the thin ice could not support the weight of the snow. Hairline cracks allowed water to seep through from below. 

Slush paths criss-crossed the ice. The rain melted most of the remaining snow, setting a new palette of silver and white.

I’m glad that the snow melted from the ice. Snow on the ice keeps it from getting thick and strong. And the frozen slush from the hairline cracks leaves behind a surface way too rough for me to skate on. 

After snowstorms and the rain that follows, the ice takes on a silvery, black and white patina. The grey and white hues on the lake match the clouds in the sky. The dark areas on the ice are less ominous than the deep darks we see in clouds though. The dark ice is the best ice. It is stronger because it doesn’t have melted and frozen slush. There is less air entrapped, and it can easily get thicker on the cold clear nights. And best of all, it is delightful to skate on.

The dark ice is where the “puddles” froze over. Where the new ice formed on the other side of the island, it is smoother and stronger, but I am wary all the same. It takes time for it to get thick enough to be safe. 

So for now I watch it all from my window, and revel in the beauty. There will be time enough to enjoy the season. Merry Christmas to all.

Viki Mather has been commenting for Northern Life on the natural world and life in Greater Sudbury since the spring of 1984.

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