Until I moved to McCall, Idaho, I had never stepped foot on a frozen body of water. Even though I’d been born in the frozen world of Alaska, I wasn’t prepared in my 20’s for the eery first step away from the bank’s safety onto the black ice of Payette Lake. To see the bottom of the lake drop away from my feet through the clear ice as I stepped further and further onto its slippery surface took an act of faith. I wasn’t prepared for how that would threaten my primitive instinct for survival. And I certainly wasn’t prepared for the SOUND. Ice makes sound?? Yes, it groans and moans like a ghost out of Harry Potter. A really big ghost. A great, deep ‘wow’ing sound beneath your feet as it adjusts itself in the ever changing pressures from within and above. Then there’s that sustained “cuh-RACK”-ing that might start in the distance and come rushing at you: a sound to awaken a sudden and profound “fight or flight” response in your body you might not even know you had. And believe me, you don’t stand still waiting to fight!!
My primitive mind told me to flee back to safety. Luckily my rational mind steadied me as I took in all the crazy folks having a lark out there. Careening around on their skates, chasing after hockey pucks, children and dogs, they were not being swallered up in sudden watery deaths. Okaaaay. Surely if those kids aren’t afraid, and their parents are allowing them out there & even joining them with all their added weight, it’s gotta be safe. Well, and practically the whole town turns out for the fun:
My husband has been skating on frozen ponds since he was a kid. He learned how to gauge the depth and readiness of ice long ago, so I figured I’d follow him. Ha ha. I’m pretty much of a toddler on skates compared to his grace and fluidity & couldn’t begin to keep up. But never mind, I actually learned to pretend I could do it, and soon, there I was in a forward momentum, actually enjoying the feeling of effortless flight. There’s such freedom in the glide! And black ice is the ultimate in slippery. Which is why, ahem, I wore a helmet. He doesn’t need one apparently.
Once I had my feet under me (most of the time), I began to notice the most wondrous things in the ice. These rare days are so special because black ice is so incredibly clear, the black of the water beneath it is all you can see. It’s an incredible black mirror.
Until you look a little closer.
Now I no longer cared if I was on my feet as I spent most of my time on my knees with my nose nearly pressed to the surface to see what was suspended in the frozen blackness. Everything from dead fish (sorry, no pictures of that :<) to feathers:
And my favorite, bubbles, creating crazy random patterns of whimsical lace, or animal figures, or…whatever your mind can imagine:
When many days go by of subzero nights and cloudless skies, hoar frost begins to grow on the surface of the black ice. Yes, it actually grows a gorgeous depth of crystals, sometimes inches thick, laying like a glittering carpet across the whole lake.
It didn’t happen for us this year. The snows came right on top of the critical freezing moment, instantly covering the ice. And that’s always a big disappointment. But I guess it makes it just that much sweeter when it finally does happen again.
But then there’s always ice in the rivers to photograph instead….
Check out the rest of my gallery of ice images and share this post if you had fun reading it!