Photo Essay

My Unfinished Business: The Perpetual Search for Ice

Altered Universe

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.

VOTE: Do you like this story?

Tell a friend about this story!

Tell a friend about this story!

  1. or

Hi there!

thought you might like this story!

—The JPG team

21 responses

  • Kitsmumma

    Kitsmumma gave props (31 Aug 2010):


  • Deja Vu

    Deja Vu (Deleted) gave props (31 Aug 2010):

    I, too, do not care much for the cold. I'm in Michigan so I (reluctantly) deal with it. After seeing these fabulous photos and reading your words I feel as though I might enjoy this coming winter a little more as I try my hand at it.

  • Ryan Watkins

    Ryan Watkins (Deleted) gave props (31 Aug 2010):

    Great images!

  • J.L. Sofka

    J.L. Sofka (Deleted) said (1 Sep 2010):


  • Alexis - Now on Flickr

    Alexis - Now on Flickr gave props (1 Sep 2010):

    Absolutely MUST be published. Voted of course

  • Nicolette de Joncaire

    Nicolette de Joncaire   gave props (3 Sep 2010):

    These must be published. This essay puts together some of the most stunning photos ever. My vote

  • Shauna Downs

    Shauna Downs gave props (6 Sep 2010):

    I moved from San Diego to NJ last year just in time for winter and hated it but now you've given me something to try this year. Thanks! Great photos!!!

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (27 Sep 2010):

    Great essay, love the photos, my V!

  • Carol Holmes

    Carol Holmes gave props (28 Sep 2010):

    A fantastic essay and outstanding photographs! **voted**

  • Rey mos

    Rey mos gave props (2 Oct 2010):


  • Massimo Bardelli

    Massimo Bardelli   gave props (15 Oct 2010):

    Great work , brava!!

  • Merike Mäll

    Merike Mäll gave props (11 Apr 2011):


  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (24 Jul 2012):

    I read it again, and I love it. I suggest you add a layer of news paper after socks and than the boots, and see if it helps. I am Romanian by origin, and we have -20 during the winter, well, news paper helped me, and still help others, just give it a try...

    PS, let me know if it worked on you -)

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (5 May 2014):

    WoW!!! Great!!! Vote...

  • JPG

    JPG gave props (11 May 2014):

    Congrats on being The Story of the Week!

  • Davide Simone

    Davide Simone said (11 May 2014):

    Congrats on being The Story of the Week!

  • Carol Arntsen Masiak

    Carol Arntsen Masiak gave props (12 May 2014):

    Congrats - fantastic and my vote!

  • Claire Crocker

    Claire Crocker said (14 May 2014):

    Thanks, everyone!

  • Evelyne Schulte

    Evelyne Schulte gave props (15 May 2014):

    Congrats, wonderful images!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (22 May 2014):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (22 May 2014):

    Congrats on making Story of the Week!

Want to leave a comment? Log in or sign up!