Sunday, February 8, 2009
Yesterday’s official temperature reached 54 degrees; today’s high likely won’t make it above the mid-40s. Both days were filled with sun. (Oddly, today feels warmer—probably because yesterday the ground still lay hidden beneath a thick layer of ice-crusted snow; the breeze wafting over this icy covering was…well, cold as ice.) Still, as the day wore on the melt began and kept increasing—dripping eaves, icicles breaking off and shattering on the deck, the whoosh-wallop of snow sliding from the roof, a wet sheen atop the ground’s white crust…and toward sundown, the first few patches of dark earth and pale grass beginning to appear in the lawn. Winter probably wasn’t over, but this round of winter, anyway, was definitely on the way out. Today the old snow cover is all but gone and the river is rising—a foot during the night, another eighteen inches since morning, and probably more to come. The real event has been the break-up of the river’s ice. For weeks now we’ve had ice-shelves—wide bands of ice extending anywhere from a half-dozen to 30 feet out from both banks, depending on the current’s line and speed. Upstream from here, along more than a mile of slower-moving stream, the ice-cover has stretched from bank-to-bank. Throughout the day, a chunk of ice, from the size of a dinner plate, to bigger than a dinner table, would break off and float downstream. (The ice-shelf pictured in yesterday’s bird-drinking post, for example, broke up and washed away before noon.) Then, about forty-five minutes ago, I heard a grinding roar, looked up from my desk, and was astonished to see the swollen river absolutely filled with a fast-moving blocks and chunks of white ice—some the size of a living-room carpet and more than a half-foot thick. Intermixed were limbs and logs, leaves, bits of debris. It looked like a scene from the arctic. Apparently all the ice pack upstream had just given way and was washing in our direction. Out on the deck, which has it’s support posts planted in bottom of the river itself, the air felt suddenly colder—a sharp cold which had, until only moments before, been locked in the white layers beneath my perch. I could hear the mutter and groan of the passing ice, hear the deep basso grinding which given time and scale can carve and shape a continent. I could feel the power of that moving ice vibrating under my feet. Wondrous, scary…a whole-body experience. The floe lasted perhaps twenty minutes—whatever time it took for the brisk current to carry a mile’s worth of breakup ice past the cottage. Now, only minutes later, the river is free of its burden, loosened from winter’s bonds. And I too feel loosened and free—though I have no doubt winter will still be around for another month or more. Yet, I’ve just witnessed the rare treat of ice-out. A season’s stranglehold suddenly broken…however temporarily. That’s reason enough to renew my faith in a coming spring.