The Song of the Ice

January 11, 2009

By God, this is more like it.

We just came through an ice storm. Black ice on the roads and on the walk to the house from where we park the cars. A thin rim of ice on the creek, the open water widening and narrowing as the temperatures fiddle around trying to decide if they are going to get serious about this whole winter thing.

It finally feels like winter, but there is still something missing. I miss the singing of the ice.

I dislike paying heating bills as much as the next guy, but if I’m going to live in a climate that has winters, dammit, I want the real thing. I grew up in Georgia, and I have to admit, our winters were pretty namby-pamby. Frosts, cold gray rains, the occasional snow or, more commonly, freezing rain.

When I moved up here to southcentral Pennsylvania in the mid-80s, I drove into a land of extroverted weather. Meteorologically, nothing seemed to happen in a small scale.

Summers were hot and humid, and temps above 100 were not uncommon. I felt right at home.

But the spring and fall storms made me think I must have led a sheltered childhood, because I was always going out to cover events that involved trees blowing over, or the roofs ripped off of houses. Deaths and injuries were not unheard of. Sure, we had tornadoes in the South, but even so, storms in the belly of Penn’s Woods seemed rather more Old Testament that what I had been used to.

But the winters. Good God the winters.

In my first winter I found myself one evening at The Lincoln Diner drinking coffee during a snowstorm so heavy I couldn’t see across the street and it had lightning in it to boot. I figured “I am NOT driving home in this!” and had another refill. I wondered if I was on the same planet I had grown up on. The place had really savage weather. I confess that I liked it.

A decade later, we moved out to this place on Marsh Creek. It’s above an ancient dam, so the creek is maybe 100 feet wide here. That year was the first I ever heard the ice sing.

Once the deep cold had set in, the creek froze over solid. The neighborhood cats used it as a way to get to the other side and tear into the population of voles, mice, and squirrels. Sometimes the ice got to a foot or more thick.

Even I could stand on it. I was impressed.

But it was the singing that riveted me. As the water level beneath the ice rose and fell, the ice cracked, lengthwise, up and downstream. The creek bed amplified the sound somehow, and the song in the snow-stilled nights rose up, haunted, hissing, humming, the twang of a hammered saw, whisper of arrows flying, the snap of whips.

The first time I heard it my hackles rose, not knowing what it was. Even after I understood, nights when I would stand by the creek in the moonlight and listen, I would wonder if that, indeed, was all the answer. It had voice, and song, to it, and I would catch myself trying to understand the words.

Over the past half dozen years, the winters have warmed or become more erratic, the bone-aching cold punctuated by periods of mild temperature, so that the ice falters, fails, and never finds its voice. The long nights are poorer for it, though we still find the occasional midnight with the ice-encrusted trees glittering under a robust moon, the breeze filling the air with the sound of ten thousand tiny bells.

Maybe the song has stilled because of global warming. Maybe it’s just a cyclical thing, and next year, or the next, or the one after that, the ice and music will return, and I can stand by the creek, under the moon, once again and hear the song of the ice whip back and forth in the silvered light.

But for now, the creek is silent, and all I can hear in the depth of the night is the trucks on the highway, a mile or two downstream. It’s a poor substitute.

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
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3 Responses to “The Song of the Ice”

  1. Steveman said

    Living in central PA, I’ve noticed the same thing-not necessarily with ice and frozen creeks. It’s quite unfortunate that we cannot experience the joys (and pains) of winter due to global climate change.

  2. burger2go said

    how much is global warming and how much of it is just a normal cycle I don’t know, of course. I suspect the former. The thing I know for sure is that winters lately have been pretty insipid! Thanks for writing…and for reading!

  3. valwebb said

    Thanks for evoking memories of childhood years in Newfoundland. We could actually drive our car across the lake during several months each winter, which seemed quite normal to my six-year-old self but amazes me now.

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