We’re slowly lurching our way from winter to spring, yet the transition is never smooth or straight. Our expectations (and our dispositions) soar when the sun comes out and starts to thaw the ice. The temperature rises to an unseasonable 60 degrees and everyone is smiling. The next day the thermometer drops back to winter, all that was liquid refreezes, and we know deep down that the “final” transition has not arrived. There’s snow in the forecast again tomorrow. This open water will likely freeze but hopefully the ice layer will be thin and ready to thaw once again when the sun returns and the melt begins anew.
With a quick plummet of the temperatures we are now in winter. Our unusually long and temperate autumn has disappeared. The ducks and geese have departed for warmer areas and open water. Only the oak trees are hanging on to their brittle brown leaves, rattling in the cold wind. The ground is starting to freeze, the snow is starting to fall, and the ice is forming. There’s a hush that settles in during winter — a peace and quiet all its own.
Here in Minnesota and Wisconsin we are going through our shoulder time from fall to winter. It’s a time that varies from year to year and also varies in its length. We had snow and cold in mid-October and then an unusual warm stretch in early November, causing the lake ice to begin to freeze, then thaw, and now freeze again. It’s a lovely time to observe the transition with open water and lake ice all at the same time.
With a warm glow the late afternoon sun lit up the opposite shoreline and allowed the trees to be reflected in the open water. The ice had been pushed to the north end of the lake by the strong winds that had blown the previous day. But this for moment, stillness and light came together.
The cold has settled in and the lakes are freezing. Throughout the day I watched the clouds and the snow move in. The wind would pick up and blow the snow down the lake, forming whirlwinds of white skimming the ice. As quickly as the snow came in, then the sun would come out. The ice would creak and moan as the heat from the sun combatted the cold of the ice. There were sub-sonic groans that pierced the air. And then the cycle would repeat – snow then sun then snow. But before sunset the skies cleared and there was a beautiful and quiet full moonrise. It lifted over the opposite shore and trees and eventually directed its light on the snow-covered and ice-cracked lake, littered with leaves now encased in the ice.
It was a bitter cold day and evening but the sun had been shining and the blue sky had beckoned people outside. I was at Lake Como and there were walkers and runners following the path around the lake, there was one lone ice fisherman, and there were people who had laced up their skates and were gliding across the ice where the surface was smooth. It was a glorious time, and the sunset glowed in the ice surface and in the clouds above. For a few moments it was beautiful, and not quite as cold as we thought.