Landscapes of Ice and Snow

January 7th, 2010

Yesterday we finally had a chance to explore the ice on the pond, before the snow storm last night.  Some years we only get one or two chances to explore the ice a little so we took advantage of the opportunity.  What is it about ice or a frozen body of water that is so fascinating?

From this perspective the pond almost looks like a river. It does have a long drainage, and the main entry points for the watershed are the foreground cove and that inlet to the left side.   That big log round in the ice is from one of the oaks I cut up in the summer… it weighed about 100 pounds dry and rolled down the hillside at the other end of the pond; I haven’t been able to get it out yet.


Here in Missouri it’s unusual for the lakes and ponds to freeze very long. Which means that freeze and thaw cycles occur quickly without ever having a safe surface of ice throughout winter. But over the last few weeks the temperatures have been so cold that the ice has frozen quickly for a long period of time… and we could explore a little!

Now how do you suppose that got there?  Maybe it rolled down the hill too at some point… and then floated all around the pond for a while?  It was a surprise to find it in the ice.  The yellow lab scratched and tried to pry it out of the ice… he loves anything that looks like a ball!


I remember living in New Jersey long ago as a youngster for a couple years. We would head for a local pond during winter and strap on our hockey style ice skates for the afternoon.   We’d skate all around on the ice with smooth and bumpy parts, and it felt so strange but fun. Someone would always have a fire in an old 55 gallon drum to get warm again.

I never had the chance to do that again (and we don’t own any ice skates yet). The cycles of cold and warm, drought and moisture all change with the seasons and decades, and this winter seems like those of long ago.

I’m pretty careful about walking on ice though… the ice has to be around 4 inches thick before I’m willing to set foot on it. Then we only test out the shallow parts near the shoreline for a while. The ice is usually weaker around the weedy shoreline (and in the middle of the pond), but if it cracks and we fall in near shore up to our knees, we can get out easily.   There’s too many stories where people blindly rush out on ice to play and meet with tragedy.  I try to make this instructive in that regard.


So I took a four foot board with wood screws sticking out and we wandered around the shoreline. The board was just in case something cracked or we needed an extra support to grip the surface. The ice was mostly clear of snow and clear enough to see through and gauage thickness. With my weight being (more than) three times that of the boy (!), where I went safely he could then follow.  And I didn’t want to wait for today with the snow cover… you can’t see what you’re walking on.

We practiced laying flat on the ice and talked about weight distribution, and how rescue teams might try to help someone who has fallen through the ice.  And it was fun to try and see some fish, but we were excited enough to find some cracks, bubbles and leaves.


The ice bubble formations were really neat looking… especially these “tiered” bubbles that probably froze at some regular interval as the ice grew thicker.  


Alas it was time to head inside as the sky grew darker with the approaching storm.  We were getting pretty chilly after a couple hours outside stacking wood and playing on the ice.  But it was actually one of the warmest days of the week with highs near 25 F / – 4 C.    Today our high is only half that, and lows for the next two nights will be near zero F / -18 C! Apparently these will be our coldest temperatures in over a decade.

I was really suprised that the yellow lab was fairly sure-footed.  He ran all around the ice and didn’t slip… but he did have trouble stopping when chasing a stick, sliding for a good ten feet.   Here you can see that he had a great time and was reeaallly happy, maybe a little too happy!


We walked across the smooth ice in varous places, but not out to the middle of the pond.  I just wasn’t willing to go that far yet, but it was fun to slide along the smooth ice.  


That was our fun afternoon at the pond, and after stocking up on groceries and firewood we settled in for the coming snow.   I just love snow in winter… I know it can make life difficult for many, but somehow I’ve always welcomed it.  Maybe because I’ve never had more than a foot or two to deal with.

But I stayed up late and got up three times during the night to watch it fall…   at three in the morning there I am at the window with the porch light on, and I see a mouse!  The little guy darts out from a small evergreen bush, and buries itself in the snow to dig around for birdseed, literally tunneling under the snowy blanket.  It was actually pretty funny to watch, and he made several trips.   I was surprised he lived that close to the house with our cats all around.  

And then what do I see but a cat, in the middle of the night, jogging along through the snow, glancing at me in the window.  It wasn’t one of ours! We live off the road quite a bit, and our cats are “fixed” so we don’t usually see strays.  It kept on going around the other side of the house… who knows.  After watching the falling snow, a mouse and a strange cat, I stoked the woodstove and figured it was time to get to sleep.


We didn’t get that much snow, but it’s beautiful.   Everything is different… peaceful and quiet, for a time.  Then the wind picked up and now we’ve got drifting snow everywhere.  Nice to be inside on a day like this.  And the boy got his snow day off from school.   That little track at left is where he slid down the hill a few times.   

In recent years I’ve figured with all the climate change discussion that we wouldn’t have very good winters any more.   Maybe at this rate however I’ll get some skis and skates after all.  Somehow I think there are parallels from the past to the emotions, ideals and political fervor we see on these issues.    With such fervent desire to “do good” I think we often lose the macro perspective for potential consequences.   I’m not sure how much of it has to do with “doing good” anyway…   But that’s a topic for another day.   Stay safe and warm out there friends- I think I’ll curl up tonight with a scotch and a good book.

9 Responses to “Landscapes of Ice and Snow”

  1. Vincent

    Holy Wow. We get an inch of snow and the place comes to a halt. I do not know what we would do if we had it so cold that a five acre pond froze over.

  2. I love the snow too! (probably because we rarely get it) It snowed here too but not anywhere near what ya’ll got, darn it. I suspect that we will have more opportunities this winter for it tho.

  3. R. Sherman

    Great post and photos. I’m sure your son and the dog enjoyed their time outside, if for no other reason than the hot chocolate waiting at the end of the expedition.


  4. i love the snow. it hardly ever falls in portland, but when it does, everyone goes crazy like they’ve never seen it before. and then they run off the road or abandon their car.

    the bubbles trapped in the ice are very beautiful and mysterious.

    when i was a kid in PA, we would ice skate in the pastures where freezing rain or melted snow would refreeze into a smooth surface.

  5. Ed

    Although I am north a ways from you, we too don’t often get ice that we can skate on. It often gets thick enough but getting it smooth enough without snow on top is rare. So we used to position a steel runnered sled on the edge and with a running start from the bank, see how far we could slide across the pond. I could get clear across ours, just barely, but I don’t think Michael Bolt would have enough speed to clear your pond length wise! Nice pictures.

  6. I don’t have the guts to walk out on my frozen lake, though I would like to go out on the pond and yank up the remnants of the duck house post that is still there.

  7. Beautiful! Up here they’re out fishing on ice right now!

  8. Vincent- I’ve been amazed at all the snow in your region this year!
    Annie- Yup, it just makes everything so fresh and clean looking, and fun! And gives me an excuse to get more done inside :)
    Randall- How did you know?! Hot chocolate is definitely in order after playing in the snow.
    Chook- That’s awesome- hope you get more there. I love that memory about PA… You reminded me how we used to turn the garden hose on between a stand of trees, and sometimes skate around between them :)
    Ed- That’s very cool. I’d like to try sledding across the pond… it’s going to warm up next week- maybe we’ll have a chance to try before then !
    Sage- Wow I’d love to try that. A little too chicken to be drilling holes in our pond right now :)

  9. Beau: I got a good chuckle from your pictures. As I was reading about the dog sitting on the ice, I read where you said he could be a little too happy. I kept studying the picture and it finally hit me. Then I said….OH HE IS HAPPY! Haha! I got a great laugh this morning. Hope all is well!

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