Try an ice hunt before it is gone.

ice and log

Ice pours off a log in a stream

If you can’t go to work, kids are home from school, and Covid-19 is taking over your brain, get outside and go on an ice hunt. Shaded streams, north facing ledges, pools and ponds hidden from direct sun–these are a few of the places that may still shelter frozen water.

It has not been the best of winters for ice and snow addicts, but no amount of denial will stop the inevitable arrival of spring and green and warmth. These offer their own joys, but today I had to seek a few remnants of sparkling ice. And there it was; clear hard knobs in a stream, a large gleaming sheet on a firepond, and icicles hanging and dripping from a cold granite boulder.

ice patterns by tree

Ice freezes in concentric patterns around a tree trunk.

Ice, natural ice, is soul-satisfying. Not the blocks you buy at the campground, or the half moons that get spit out of the ice maker, but wild ice. Clear and in a myriad of bizarre forms ice is grounding and calming. The shapes that ice can take are fantastical, and their season is almost over.

Flat ice, hard water, ice-fishing ice, ice-skating ice–that is all gone. I am resigned to it, and while  I saw people icefishing just a few days ago the ice is far too fragile to lure me out onto it. I took to the woods instead. The knowledge that a few remains of glorious frozen water forms were still out there had me scrambling in the shadiest trails I could think of.

ice in woven texture

Ice creating a basket weave pattern

Today’s walk gave me ice in different forms and I cherished each, knowing there were perhaps only a few days before it went back to the world as water or vapor.

Here are a few of my ice sightings:

There was a thin sheet caught in a stream, capturing air bubbles and creating  frothy patterns.

Large frozen drops hung off a branch in a stream, so clear I can see through them, but twisting and distorting the objects on the other side.

ice folded in patterns

Metamorphic ice

Ice had formed geometric shards on the surface of still water–the lines straighter and more perfect than anything I could draw with a ruler. What combination of water and air temperatures and wind cause just that shape? Ice itself shares basic elements regardless of the shape. Cold causes the motion of moving water molecules to slow down. At 32 degrees F, they move so slowly they collide and join instead of whizzing on by. The linked molecules form hexagons, then a matrix, and ice is born.

I know there is an explanation for the triangular shards, and I want to know what it is, but I am in the woods and looking at beautiful shapes at my feet and simply want to be in this moment.

Large ice flow on Gorham Mountain, Acadia National Park

A large column of frozen water that had spilled down a mountain caught me by surprise as I rounded a bend in the trail. So much ice! I got close and breathed the ice-cooled air. It felt crisp as it  flowed up my nostrils.

I thought of ice houses. There was a time before refrigeration that households had ice year round, and there was an entire industry based on keeping ice alive. Ice would be harvested from frozen rivers and lakes and stored in dark insulated warehouses, often covered in sawdust. This ice could last until the next winter.

ice bubbles

Frothy bubbles at edge of ice in a stream

We sell ice at our seasonal business, and our supplier is Getchell Bros. This local family business was started by two brothers, fourteen year old J. Calvin and fifteen year old Fred. Guess that’s where the name came from. But what an inspiring story, two young kids creating a prosperous business. It is still family run, but instead of cutting ice from the ponds, they manufacture 360,000 pounds of ice per day in a plant in Sanford, Maine. A legacy of ice, even if it is no longer wild, is pretty cool. (or should I say frozen?)

I got almost light-headed as I inhaled the cold from that massive flow of ice. It just felt so good.

My ice hunt was successful. I stepped on, crunched, and shattered thin ice on the surface of the stream by my house. I patted the massive ice column on the trailat Cadillac Cliffs on Gorham Mountain. I poked at spinning ice discs beneath a small waterfall. I said my first goodbye to ice.

Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.