where the writers are
ice II
Mount Valkyrie


In the always-summer of July when days stretched as long as the season and sunlight kissed warm even at dusk, this beach was alive with barking dogs, laughing families, squealing kids, and lovers who snuggled in the places between.  The waves of  November obliterated the tracks of those times, voices drown and shadows frozen.  The shoreline is deserted now, save for us: even the seagulls have abandoned the winter lake.

Or is that a gull far out on the water, there, along the line that marks the transition between the shallow, calm water near shore and the ripple-corrugated shipping lane?  It's something white, floating and bobbing about a seagull's height above the surface.  No?  It's an ice floe?  I can't make it out from here -- it's got to be a couple hundred yards out.  There's another.  They're all at that transition zone: it's like there's a thin sheet of ice that extends out from shore to that point.  The surface is so smooth that it looks like glass.  But it's not ice: I can see it slowly swelling and receding.  Maybe the water's thicker here, just on the liquid side of freezing.

We walk the beach with the setting sun at our backs.  Near the woods the sand is snow-covered but closer to the water it's frozen, with patches of slick, bare ice darkly framed by the sand's pale tan.  Slim wafers of ice-congealed sand have broken from the main mass and are strewn, brittle and geometric, across the otherwise featureless, concrete hardness of the beach.  Most of the driftwood has been swept away by the same waves that erased summer's last footprints: the wood that remains is so liberally coated with ice that it has become one with the beach.  A finger-sized stick has quadrupled in mass into a shapeless extrusion above the sand: unidentifiable in form, in substance it's more ice than wood.

Land appears where once there was only water: at one point along the beach thick white ice has created a new, miniature landscape of mountains and fiords.  "This wasn't here two days ago."  Back then the off-shore water was full of floating ice crystals.  Where the waves washed over the sand, a few of the crystals remained, then a few more froze on top of these original crystals to form a thin, white rim that marked the surf's highest point.  The newly created, floating ice kingdom, pink in the last sun, has erupted in only two bitterly cold days.

I feel like a gigantic arctic explorer as I tower above these knee-high mountains.  Each peak is a perfect cone, like a volcano, and some are vented with circular calderas.  The miniature mountain range protects a plain of level ice behind it and a cut-out bay where flapjacks of pancake ice float and jostle with the breathing of the surf.  The largest floe, washtub-sized and shaped like a lens, supports its own miniature lake that sloshes to and fro with the movement of the floe.  The water of the bay is crinkled with tiny, transparent crystals of ice.

Past the crystal kingdom, the shoreline is more regular, cemented into a ridge of frozen breakers that mock the current calm of the lake with silence: this was once liquid, flowing water.

"It wasn't like this last winter.  It was -- there were blocks, big blocks of ice: six, maybe ten feet thick, just sheered off in straight seams.  Tossed around like nothing.  It looked like a bomb had hit it.  Like a disaster."

It's taken Trooper the dog this long to find a stick: most of them have been incorporated into the matrix of sand and ice.  The one he finally locates is bare, pointed at one end: the work of a beaver.  I throw the stick toward the woods and hope that the dog avoids the patches of slick ice on his mad rush to retrieve.

Tom grabs my arm, points to the northeast.  Wordless.  This is what I love about Tom: the act of witnessing the moonrise is as sacred and holy to him as it is to me.

The half arc is rosy and appears divorced from the surface of the water by an opaque, white gauze.  We stand frozen, arms around the thick wool at the other's waist, as the moon -- translucent as a piece of frosted, colored glass, reedy and thin -- ascends higher, breaking free of the haze of mist that the cold air has teased from the slightly warmer lake: a half circle, three quarters, and then it's suddenly complete, as round as an argument, a dream, a curse.

But still thin, bloodless.  This early moon possesses no light: it's a specter, a wraith, a vampire.  Its reflection fingers across the lake toward us, pale pink and fractured from the chop of the icy water.  Slowly, its power increases, consuming what was left of the sunset's dying afterglow.  We still haven't spoken.  Trooper drops his stick in front of me, barks once to suggest the resumption of our game of fetch.  By the time we turn away from the moon, our shadows stretch long and defined in front of us, and scruffy circles of naked ice shine like a hundred new moons embedded in the sand at our feet.