The sky was blue this morning and it felt like it had been awhile. The car coughed to a start after a night in the single digits and I drove uphill, away from the valley in which my current city lies. Just 10 minutes from home, I park at a gate below the giant dam that ensures not only a predictable drinking water supply for nearby human residents, but also an efficient blockade to any of the stream’s  water-dwellers who might desire free range of their possible habitats.

I began my walk downhill, warm and sturdy plastic and neoprene boots screeching over the shallow styrofoam layer of snow, wishing I had worn my moose hide and wool mukluks for the silence they yield in such conditions.

The eastern shore of the lake was still mostly shaded at this hour of the morning, colored with those particular shades of blue-gray that only exist in winter’s shadows. I stopped to look and listen and immediately recognized the eerie sound of singing ice.

Otter Brook

A guttural sound, reminiscent of that mysterious place where emus and moose summon their deep calls that are heard louder in the heart than the ears (yes, I’ve heard both in person), snaked across the ice, bouncing from tree to rock to ice to my ears. Just walking across the vocal snow was enough to drown this sound, so I sat against a lonely oak on the shore, drenched in sunshine, listening to the almost constant song of the ice (to listen to what this sounds like, click here). Occasionally, the ice itself would heave and resettle, producing a less sonorous and more mechanical sound.

As water freezes and ice thaws, especially due to dramatic temperature changes, significant expanding and contracting occurs within a lake. This particular morning, the temperature rose over 20 degrees in just a couple of hours. This increase in temperature caused some of the ice to expand and crack, the sound of which carried and distorted over the large, mostly snowless lake surface.

Ever present, however, was the song of humans as well: from the dam looming in the south, preventing the rapid (and noisy) flow of water, to the one gunshot per second and occasional male “yeah!” to the north, to the steady swoosh of cars on the road to the west, I considered the stories that just sounds can tell, even during the “silent season.” No birds were calling nor even squirrels jumping through the branches. Just ice and humans remained boldly active on this particular morning. I began my walk back uphill, much more quietly now. The snow had warmed and the squeaky quality diminished. Whether it was really the snow that became less acoustic or my footsteps that trod more softly after my reflections, I do not know for sure.

 

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