My Unfinished Business: The Perpetual Search for Ice
31 Aug 2010
For the first time ever, I find myself looking forward to the coming Maine winter. Now, that's not unusual for people who ski, snowboard, or snowmobile. However, my family has spent years listening to me hiss, "I HATE THE COLD!" as my teeth chatter and my hands turn purple. While other people seem to generate adequate inner warmth, I do not. Although encased in knit gloves with flannel over-mittens, my hands start to feel the cold the minute I step outdoors . My toes, snug inside my sturdy 1/2" felt-lined Sorrels, don't last much longer. The cold seems to seep through my layers, as the tip of my nose and my earlobes sting unmercifully. So... how is it, that for the first time ever, I'm looking forward to winter?
The answer lies in a simple 3-letter word: "ice". About 3 years ago, while on sabbatical from my teaching job, I developed a passion for photography. Although my tools remain pretty primitive (a Canon PowerShot), I try to maximize the results through creativity and dogged determination. And last winter, I discovered the wonders of ice. We live on the Presumpscot River in southern Maine. There is no lack of ice from November through March. When high water receded after an unusual cold spell in December, a shelf of ice a few inches thick remained hanging over the bank. On one of my late afternoon photo excursions the setting sun illuminated the moss, pine needles, sticks and other debris below the ice shelf. It caught my eye, so I started snapping away using my macro setting. Dripping water caught my attention. Then bizarre swirls. There were bubbles, shafts of light, and a microcosm world within a world. I was hooked.
Now, not everything turns out, given my inexperience and lack of high-end camera. So, I've taken to snapping multiple shots from multiple perspectives. Over and over. One thing I am very good at, though, is using the erase button on my camera. Once I get inside where I can warm up, I preview my images, and "delete, delete, delete"! It does take a while to preview 400 photos, only to keep about 50 or so. But it is worth it. I've been learning from my mistakes, and some of my mistakes have actually turned out well!
My obsession for the remainder of winter centered on ice. I was out snapping until my fingers were stinging and my toes were numb. But, most interesting was the fact that when I was totally focused on one particular ice subject, my fingers warmed up considerably as though my body had some way of knowing that I needed that extra surge of warmth to accomplish my deed. I developed new ways to bundle up, and took advantage of morning light and late afternoon sun. Indeed, my family (husband, son and daughter) are rather stupefied when they see me bundle up and head out into the "wicked cold", as we would say here in Maine. What happened to the grumbling, grinch of winter that I used to be?
I've included some of my favorite photos from my winter of discovery. I find it incomprehensible that I can't wait for that first cold night when the edges of the river will begin to freeze. In my head, I plan new versions of my clothing layers and try to imagine where the secret lives of ice will reveal themselves. My goal is to find ice that blooms. Through an online photography friend, I have seen the evidence myself: his ice had beautiful 6-pointed flowers in it. Green with envy, and yet truly happy for his find, I have made it my mission to seek blooming ice this winter. He and I exchanged e-mails, laughing as we imagine ourselves setting out pails of water with various additives, trying to reproduce unique patterns in the ice that forms within. As if my family doesn't think I'm strange enough already!
So, my photography journey continues. As always, it is what I call "the hunt" that feeds my passion. Time disappears and my surroundings shrink to reveal the unique details my eye seeks relentlessly. And then I see it: some small anomaly, a shaft of light, a swirl of color or perhaps families of bubbles that suggest something otherworldly. And time disappears.