Sunday, February 7, 2010

Our Canadian Christmas: a walk on the lake

One day, sometime after christmas, Lynn, Andrea, and I took a walk along the edge of the lake by which they live. When I say "along the edge of the lake" I mean on the frozen surface of the lake itself but remaining, all the while, close to the shore. While we had seen ski-doos (snowmobiles) racing across the lake for at least a week, local wisdom said that when walking on frozen lakes you should stay near the edge just to be safe. In a landscape full of holes full of water that freeze over in winter it is no surprise that local lore is rich in tales of those who didn't make it all the way across but drowned in the icy water beneath the hard crust. During my stay in Canada I heard many stories of people ending up under the ice, either as a result of ignorance, stupidity, plain bad luck, or things just not being what they appeared to be. I think I became a bit paranoid about the ice breaking up under my feet and me falling into an icy-cold bath and being paralysed by the cold shock and unable to react to save myself. However, we never strayed very far from the lake shore and so I was always reminding myself that if I did go through the ice, I would probably be able to stand on the lake bed.

On this particular day the sun was shining down from out of a deep blue sky. I don't think there was anyone else at home that day and so the three of us went out for a walk with the two dogs, Mila and Nabi. On one hand it was just a walk on the lake, something that people who live in these places can take for granted having grown up with such things as frozen water in (seasonal) abundance. But for me there was something about this particular walk that, in hindsight, seemed to catalyze the foundation of a real relationship between me and this foreign landscape. I think that it was after this walk that this landscape, so different from the place where I come from, finally started to feel like a home.

Ready to start walking: Mila, Andrea, and Lynn. Nabi has already run off somewhere. Notice the edge of the frozen crust just behind and to the right of Lynn. It has cracked and the pieces have been forced upwards, exposing the rocky lake bed underneath. Apparently after the lake had begun to freeze, the authorities lowered the water level in the lake although I can't remember why. The crust of ice also moves and cracks over time and so you get some interesting features showing up along the edge of the lake and on the surface. One of the most interesting things I learned about the frozen lake was that the lake will groan, or sound like it is groaning, as the ice moves and I did get to hear this during my time here.

A beautiful image. The distant lake shore divides the lake and the clouds.

This tall tree provides a perfect platform for an eyrie. In seasons gone by a family of large birds lived atop this tree. Now all that is left is the nest.

Between the lake and the hills, strange shapes can be seen.

This was once the home of a colony of paper wasps, now departed. [Wikipedia on Paper Wasps]

I'm really not sure how the snow and ice get into these amazing shapes and forms.

Lynn on the government dock.


Up close at the edge of the ice under the trees. Perfect fragile slender icicles stand straight and tall. This is a microworld of wonders.

The forest looks particularly wild and forbidding as Lynn and Andrea gaze in.

Back to where we started by the wooden dock outside the family home. I knelt down on the ice and tried to take a good photo that would capture something of the hidden landscape under the ice. During the other seasons this rocky lake bed is under water and even in winter it is usually hidden but the weird movements of the ice sheet have allowed me a glimpse of what lies beneath. You might say that it's just a bunch of rocks after all but there's something timeless about the bed of rocks that lie sleeping forever under the water. There's something timeless about the lake and the ice and the change of the forest from green to brown and gray to green again. In this place the changing of the seasons is stark and vivid. In a few months everything will be water and green again. We'll have to wait until next winter to hear the lake groaning in the still night.

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