Sunday, February 8, 2009

BREAKUP!

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.

8 comments:

Pablo said...

I remember visiting the lock and dam on the Mississippi River about this time of the year to see the eagles. Behind the dam was a huge pile of river ice, broken apart upstream and accumulated. It would grind and moan as I sat by and listened. As much fun as the eagles.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Pablo…

Today's ice mass probably wasn't as loud as the ice you heard—though it could be heard inside the stone cottage, which is closer that I ever would have imagined before moving here to being soundproof. But it was neat the way it appeared, passed, and departed in such a short time…leaving the river strangely empty,

KGMom said...

The break up of river ice is always a thrilling, sometimes dangerous thing. We live within several miles (not on the banks of) the mighty Susquehanna River. And we were in this area when Hurricane Agnes blew through here (in 1972) and saw the horrific floods--not caused by ice. Then in 1998 we had a tremendous ice jam that took out a bridge!

Jenn Jilks said...

We're still iced in, despite a hole from melt water. Our wee lake is 400 m x 2 km. How about the rescue on Lake Erie?! My blog post had several comments!!! :-) People were less than positive about those who would venture out.

I love the breaking up of the ice. Some years it just puddles on top and then sinks away.

Other years, the wind blows it up on our shores with a crackling sounds of crystals on the shore.

We're in for ice and snow for awhile longer. It hovers around 0 C., 32 F. in the day.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

When the main load of ice came downstream today, it was thundering into bankside trees whose roots were in the water, which caused them to shudder, and I watched it take out several big driftpiles with some logs (sycamore I'd guess) perhaps three feet across and twenty long. And this from a river seldom wider anywhere than 100 feet. A truly big river's ice would doubtless be an awesome sight.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

It was really the rising water more than warming temperatures that broke our ice today. You time will come, whether by wind or slow melt. Don't worry, we won't keep spring all to ourselves forever; and I'm not imagining spring, even in Ohio, is anymore more awake than last week's groundhog.

I felt sorry for those Lake Erie fishermen. I guess about an 8-mile section of ice broke off, stranding several hundred people along its length. But a sunny, slightly warmer Saturday, in early-February…and after they'd been fishing safely (or as safely as ice fishing can be) for weeks, I'm not sure you could expect them not to be on the ice. (Excuse the double negative.) It was probably the south wind that caused the break-off.

I've certainly made plenty of serious and potentially fatal mistakes during my various outdoor adventures. Sometimes, the thing that got me into a near-fatal situation was so small, so easily overlooked, so unimportant normally that no one would have given heed beforehand. There's an old saying that God protects fools, kids, and preachers…but I've regularly come to believe he works hardest protecting fishermen. Now and then, though, one of us ignores that hedge and slips away. Not all of life's lessons are easily learned or learned without pain and tears. There is always, always a price.

giggles said...

Yipes! Sounds scary and awesome!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Nahh-h. A passing train in a New York subway is scary; New York City is scary.
This was just good old raw nature. A river version of a marching band.

Awesome, though.