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The Road Less Trammeled
by Steven T. Rider

Listen to the Lake    January 12, 2005

The frenetic holiday pitch had eased down to a measured pace and the winter wind began to etch its way into my life. Its moans and howls were normally the only noises to which I was accustomed during the bleak season of Winter, except for the occasional great horned owl and coyote in the evening or dawn. The Winter Solstice that marked the end of the Sun's southward journey had passed and the slow march northward to summer had already begun.

In a very unlikely place I encountered another voice of the earth. But to hear the earth actually talk during this season I needed to venture to where it spoke.

I found a lake of some size and depth that is accessible during the night. The lake was the largest I could find locally. Big lakes speak loudly and with authority; smaller lakes whisper.

After a weeklong cold spell that was marked by daytime temperatures that struggled to push the mercury above thirty degrees, and nighttime temperatures that made me cringe, I packed myself in the warmest woolies I had and headed out onto the ice when the air was still and temperatures were bone-numbing cold.

There had been no snow and the weather was consistently cold. Ice had been increasing in thickness for a prolonged period. Checking on it was easy.

I stopped to visit with brave souls whose tip-ups (winter fishing gear) were in the water and inquired as to how much ice they needed to drill through to find the lake beneath. Anything over two inches of thickness was safe to travel across by foot, but to really hear the ice talk, I waited for more than a foot.

I have identified several easy ways to determine when it is NOT advisable to venture out onto frozen waters. Any open water is a dead giveaway. Heavy snow is also a bad sign. Snow is an insulator that allows the ice to deteriorate from the bottom up, while preventing cold air from coming in contact with the lake ice, keeping it from thickening.

In the stillness of the frigid night air, with the Milky Way blazing across the sky, the lake came alive with spirited talk. Emboldened by the knowledge that there was eighteen inches of ice underfoot, I jumped up and down.

Occasionally my mere presence on the ice was sufficient to evoke an eerie voice beneath my feet. Disconcerting at first, standing above forty feet of water and fish, I began conversing with the lake. In a short while I was hopping across the ice eager to listen to the sounds emanating from the frozen depths.

As ice expands, it causes stresses through its depth and across its breadth. These stresses cause ice to crack. The sounds of these cracks are transmitted through the ice and can get boisterously loud. The colder the temperature, the faster the ice grows and the more frequent the stress cracks develop. The larger the lake, the bigger the stress cracks.

Take some time to listen to the voice of the ice.

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