Ice moments

by Kathryn Harper

It is sometimes interesting to note the miracles that occur right under our noses and at regular intervals: blooming plants in the spring, shooting stars in the summer, migrating birds in the autumn, and then in the winter, the formation of ice. 

Ice beginning to form on the shore, Lac Notre Dame.

Many people watch the ice encroaching on the lake with dismay as the final sign of winter’s inevitable arrival. However, I look at it as a new lens on the lake. I love watching transitions. Every day, new shapes of ice are formed, sometimes erased and formed again.  With each alteration, the way we see the lake changes, the colours morph into fades of themselves then obscured, then gradually whitened and blanketed as if in a hibernation of hue.  Each of these stages brings its own beauty, enhanced, as beauty often is, by its own vanishing act.

Ice and open water, Lac Notre Dame.

Having moved from the moderate winters of England, we embraced our first winter in Canada with a rookie’s zeal. Frost was a shiver, snow was a smile, but it was ice that was the real celebration, the ultimate badge of honour of living in a truly wintry land. We tracked the ice’s progress every day, noting every expanded shape, and every emerging texture, crack or suspended bubble in our endless exploration of the new surfaces.  Finally, the last plane of resistance surrendered to opacity. The lake was frozen. That which was once fluid was now fixed and hard. The water that once reflected the sky now assumed its own mantle. It became a firm substance. 

Ice now covering the lake.

This was an invitation to different movements.  Animal tracks started appearing. Snowfall began gathering, then drifting, sometimes exposing the ice again.  Then after weeks of hardening, people started populating the ice: skiers, walkers, snowmobiles, fishermen. People walking on water…

Human and animal tracks now cover snow on the lake.

My brother-in-law, Nick, and his family came to visit us that first Christmas. To our UK family, Christmas had always been an over-the-top celebration with a huge collection of silly and serious family traditions scrupulously observed.  We always ate certain foods, read books aloud, opened presents in a particular order, listened to music, sang carols, and the children usually produced wonderfully wacky plays that entertained in spite of the inevitable fallings out amongst the cast members. Our move had disrupted this and there was no way we could replicate the English village scenes, the ancient candle-lit cathedrals, or the holly and mistletoe freshly picked from our garden. There was no point in even trying.  In addition, the children had gone and grown older, abandoning their plays for some hidden universes within their phones.

Our old village in the Costwolds at Christmas.

Their visit, challenged by tricky logistics and budgets, was an important reunion – a sort of welcoming of the old life to the new. It had been a difficult few years for all. So, it was with great relief that we picked up my five sleepy relatives in the early morning from their night flight from London Heathrow to the Ottawa Airport. As we drove them north of Gatineau, they didn’t even realize that they had entered another province – they probably didn’t know that we called them ‘provinces’. When they stumbled out of the car, we didn’t lead them to the door of the house, instead, we ushered them down the slope to what would be our greatest gift: the frozen lake.  Their bloodshot eyes widened in amazement. Then a -25° gust of wind almost blew them away. 

“Welcome to paradise,” we said.

Luckily, Nick and his family embraced the cold with the enthusiasm of those for whom it is a novelty. They laughed at all the clothes they had to wear. They marvelled at the mounds of boots by the door. They discovered frozen eyelashes. They began to understand the concept of poutine. They ventured out on the lake at every opportunity despite the exceptionally frigid weather. They made snow angels, skied, dog walked, snowshoed, took photos, and even sang carols on the ice. It was a never-ending invitation to them. This made us truly happy and less regretful of our separation from them.

On the ice under the full moon.

On Christmas Eve, there was a full moon and our intrepid visitors suggested a walk on the ice despite the fug of sluggishness that was developing near the fire.  We lifted our heavy bodies, donned our wintry vestments, and stepped out into the night. There are some moments when events, people, and even the weather converge to create moments of perfection. That night, reunited with our lovely family under the moon and on the ice, seemed to be one of them.  The beauty of the night sky, the moon, the stillness, and the ice were truly gifts from the gods.  We were all there witnessing it, together… for several minutes … breathing in the cold…. inhabiting it… being it…  Then we lost all sensation in our fingers and toes and ran like crazy into the warm house.

Haven from the cold.

The rest of the holiday went well. We ate and drank too much. We played some more on the lake. They left. We missed them. The cold winter continued. Then the ice melted into spring.

So this isn’t really a story. It’s about a moment, a fixed image… It isn’t so much about ice but about change, beauty, and small miracles… An ice moment in time.

Thank you Wakefield.

Kathryn Harper