Temperatures plunged on Saturday night. Not a breath of wind. Brilliant stars sparkled for almost the first time this winter. By morning, the water of the bay had become a crystal mirror. The clear sheet of ice reflected the rock, snow, and buildings of the far shore.
Tension held the ice above the water. Beneath the solid surface, unseen, water moved, lapped against the layer above, adding molecule by molecule to the still sheet. It was not thick enough to stand on, and when temperatures rose it would disappear, but for that day ice covered the bay.
In the barn, lambs huddled together for warmth, only returning to their mother for warm milk when I disturbed them. Twins had been born the night before in the deepening cold, but mom had dried them off, fed them, and by morning they were trying to learn to run.
The waterbowl their mother could drink at was blocked. A sheet of ice had formed, not hard to break with my gloved hand, but blocking access to necessary liquid. This night, cold had not penetrated to the pipes, so the bowl filled when the ice broke.
In the fields, skating rinks had formed. All week, warmth and rain had melted the snow pack. Water collected in the low parts of fields and crept up onto the roadways. When cold air descended, pools become solid blocks. Slippery sheets formed on sidewalks. Dips filled in with ice that would support a car wheel, send a vehicle sliding sideways.
In the river, water raced, but the whitish colour contrasted with the usual black. Slush formed at the surface, forming frazzle ice, making the river build up at the turns, rise in its banks.
During the day Saturday, the wind had brought squalls. Snow covered the roof of house and barn. On the south facing slope, the warmth of the March sun melted the snow so that water ran into the eavestrough. As it came out the spout it hit the frigid air. Some drops congealed on the spot. Some absorbed a little more warmth and ran on, forming a long finger of ice. Through the day the competition of warmth and cold lengthened and thickened the icicle. A few drops kept running off the tip to hit cold stone and snow. These became a crystal bright sheet.
Rivulets of ice formed on the tractor tire where snow melted on the roof and dripped down into the shade to congeal. Along the bottom of the truck, narrow clear fingers of ice reached toward the ground.
From tree branches and hydro poles, icicles hung.
The day did not know whether motion or stillness should win out. The energy of the sun made molecules flow. Cold arrested movement. Water had been in motion all week, but the frigid air became a dam that thwarted natural inclination. Waves in the bay that had rolled all winter halted under the command of ice, though underneath the water cycled, flowed, seeking an outlet and freedom.
Early in the week, sap flowed fast in the maple trees. Buckets and lines filled. Maple syrup producers were flooded. Evaporators and fires heated up to keep ahead of the flow. Then the plunge in temperatures and the same people worked to protect their equipment from freezing. Then a wait for the next rise, the signal for sap to flow again.
This is spring. A promise of energy that pumps through us and disappears. A hint of movement that races and hits the dam wall. Growth unfolds and is blocked. Life unfurls, just a little, stunted by dark and cold, made to wait.
But I have watched the catkins on my pussywillow year after year. The soft grey pushes open the brown cover, just a little, then waits. A day or a week may pass in stillness, but with warmth, the grey pushes and grows, the brown shell falls back. Full soft catkins glow in the brighter light. Again, they wait. Cold may envelope them. Snow may cover them. But a few days or a couple weeks will pass, and on these branches, green leaves will bud.
Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.