This cold season, with the lack of a good snow cover most of the time to baffle the sound, I’m experiencing large sheets of solid water — ice — covering lakes and ponds.
For several weeks, I have been listening to the ice sheet on Lake Waconia. It actually groans, cracks, thunders and rumbles. These eerie sounds are the result of ice expanding when warmer air arrives and contracting during colder spells. The loud sounds do not necessarily mean that ice is unsafe for walking, skating or fishing, but the roars and rolls are attention-grabbing.
Ice also is the dazzling white frost sometimes seen on trees and shrubs, and the delicate frost fronds and feathers on certain windows, the glare on a sleet-covered road, the pendant ice hanging from a tree branch or from the eaves of our homes. We see ice in the frozen motion of a snowdrift, the huge plow of a mountain glacier, and in the crystals floating in the air on a sunny January day.
Cirrus clouds form myriad minute ice crystals about 5 miles above Earth, where the temperature is always well below freezing. Cirrus clouds defy even the heat of July. We can see some of the most intricate ice ever in the form of crystals when snowflakes fall from much lower clouds. Snow-crystal watching opens up a new world of discovery and is done best by catching snowflakes on a dark surface such as the arm of a jacket. Most will appear six-sided with varying degrees of design. So, some may say “ice is ice,” but ice is often a thing of beauty and a force, and seldom is it simple.
Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.