The delicate balance of fire and ice

by Emily Stone Naturalist/Educator Cable Natural History Museum

The morning stretched on like a cat basking in the sun. Freshly groomed ski tracks led us on a winding journey through goldenbarked poplar stands, dense fir thickets, and across sunny meadows of windswept drifts. Wolf tracks, perfectly imprinted onto the smooth ski grooves, trotted along with us. Fox tracks floated across the icy crust; a remnant of last night’s mischief.

We seemed to glide on the boundary between fire and ice. The sunshine toasted our cheeks, foreheads, and tender necks to a crispy shade of red. Our skis swished along on icy snow, carry- ing our bodies through a dynamic temperature range.

Early spring is a time of shifting balance. The ice, which had been winning the battle for months, finally starts to weaken in the face of an intensifying sun. It is an age-old contest. The early stages of this fight make for absolutely fantastic spring skiing and snowshoeing. Warm sun for your face meets slick and supportive snow for your feet. The scenery isn’t half-bad either, when bluebird skies provide the backdrop for snow-dusted branches and clean white hills.

As the sun dipped low, more magic shimmered through. Glassy jumbles of ice panes on Lake Superior’s rocky north shore captured the last rays of light. Out in the widening pools of open water, newly broken shards moved against one another in a gentle, tinkling, watery symphony.

By the next morning, the sun had redoubled its attack, and the ski trail softened in retreat. The glorious warmth on my face soon eclipsed the fading quality of the ski trails as a source of pleasure. I changed boots, and changed surfaces. Then, as a strip of wet blacktop road led me winding through hardwoods, the air held the scents of damp wood, wet leaves, and fresh life. Actually, the whole forest smelled like maple syrup.

It doesn’t matter that I woke up to an ice-encrusted car, or that another inch of snow fell throughout the day. It doesn’t even matter that yet another blizzard is hissing through the woods as I write this. The long-term forecast is for sunshine and warmth. The ice is on its way out. It may win another battle or two, but the sun will win the war.

“…Do you think there is anywhere, in any language, a word billowing enough for the pleasure that fills you, as the sun reaches out, as it warms you…?” –Mary Oliver, The Sun


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