between our steps 03 20 19 doubleWhen I moved to the water, I imagined ice forming along the shore as it does in the bay at Owen Sound and Wiarton. I thought I could ski out my back door and along the ice, once I was certain it was thick enough. Fortunately, I can ski out the front door and along the snow-filled ditch to Greystone Trails, because out here ice formation was not what I expected.

The first ice came from splash on the rocks. Wind whipped the waves onto the shore. As the rocks got cold in late December, water froze on the surface, giving the shore and the breakwater a blue-white coat. On a few warm and windy days in January, chunks of ice lost their hold on the rock, became mini icebergs rocking in the waves, slowly melting away.

As winter got colder, some mornings balls of slush pushed up against the shore. These grey-white globes floated free for a while, then bumped into one another, growing. Some clung to the shore building a ledge. The wind shifted the current, and the ledge became a finger with swirls of water on each side.

By this time, fish huts sprung up on the Pottawatomi river and in the sheltered harbour. Out here, waves rolled over each other, pounded the shore. The breakwater next door doubled in size, a white-blue barrier creating a sheltered pool behind it. Some mornings there were flat boards of ice floating in the quiet water behind that shelter. A few mornings, there was a solid surface there, but currents would break it up by noon.

On a very cold late February morning, when not a breath of wind stirred, a thin layer of ice covered the water right to the horizon. It melted in the sun by noon.

But the water was cold now, just a few degrees above freezing. Lines of floating white ice would form, sometimes far out in the water, sometimes nearer, depending on currents and wind direction.

Then, one morning we looked out to find a sheet of ice. Merganser ducks flew just above it looking for a place to land, finding nothing but ice. I worried for these ducks. They dive to fish, but where the open water lay, a long way out, it would be too deep for them. The shallow water along the shore was covered by a sheet of ice. I wondered if soon it would thicken enough for me to consider skiing.

Slowly, the wind picked up. Waves started to roll gently under the ice. As it rose and fell cracks developed. Soon it was not a single sheet but many boards of ice, about ten centimeters thick, rubbing against each other.

When the wind strengthened, I heard grinding. Boards of ice a meter square climbed over each other onto the shore. They piled against the rock. A tall sculpture of blue-white sheets formed.

We did not again see a solid surface of ice. For days, a layer would form, move and melt and reform. Lines of white would travel with the currents. In the harbour in Owen Sound, people were walking out to fish. Here, an eagle landed on an island of ice, watched the open water, moved on. Ducks dove between the sheets.

On the day of the rain and thunderstorm, waves reached up to the glacier on the breakwater, slowly reclaimed water from the ice. We can see rock now beneath shelves that reach out over the waves. I am starting to believe that I will see the rocky shoreline, walk into the water, get out the kayak. I won't expect to ski there next year.

I started this column about ice last week, but switched topics as I wondered what it was about. Besides describing ice, what was I talking about? A fellow writer said that their poetry about nature was always about something more. I wondered what more was there in these words about ice.

Then I came across quotes from Mary Oliver, an invitation to be still and to be amazed, the instruction to be astonished and to tell about it.

And I knew that I had been astonished by the flow of water into ice and back. Speaking about being amazed was enough.

Cathy Hird lives on the shore of Georgian Bay.


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