Black Ice

Black Ice

This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter from his archive. Read the previous post here.

As our landscape turns to face winter’s single numbers, the first remarkable event is the freezing over of our marshy pond. At long last, the northern night closes a solid grip over the still, dark water, and thin sheets of crystal ice spread over the surface, creeping against the shore around twigs and through the grasses.

It is a remarkable thing, young ice, when it first forms, especially if the air is calm. Its glassy pane grows pure and clear without a ripple, and except for the curling, white goose feather caught in the night, the new surface is now glistening black perfection.

I recall, as a boy, walking down the road to the big swamp near home, my scuffed ice skates, laces tied together, hanging over my shoulder. On the occasion of the first good, black ice, I felt an urgent need to be the very first to track its cold expanse and explore the new dimension now offered me, where before I had only been able to cast a fishing line and bobber to catch the whiskered catfish now lying sluggish below the ice.

I remember sitting on a log to shove my feet into my frozen skates and how I pulled the laces tight with all my might in the hope that would keep my ankles straight. The first few steps onto the ice were always impatient to be clear of the weeds and cattails, but at last I was out on it, and it was wonderful. Each year was the same; I felt a little guilty for marring that virgin surface with the curved white lines and wisps of shaved ice from my skate blades, yet the distant shore and flooded, frozen forest of dead standing trees beckoning at the far end were now only so many smooth, effortless strokes away.

The ice was so clear and so black and so fast, it was like flying. In magic solitude, I entered the flooded forest, veering in and out between the trees. The ice cracked and echoed as it settled. And I flew and flew and could not stop. It was exhilarating. No matter how I turned and circled, there was no possibility of stopping, for there was one more place I hadn’t been.

But of course, even a 12-year old boy can eventually cover a frozen swamp with his thin, white lines, and once I had done so, I was at last overcome by the stillness around me. I got on my hands and knees to peer through the ice at the dark leaves on the bottom, a newt, and the specks of sediment and water bugs that rode on the gentle current below. I inspected an abandoned wood duck box. There, on a flattened nest of feathers and grass, was a single egg that had never hatched, its embryo frozen, never to know the passion its brothers and sisters would return with in the spring.

In the end, I glided out of the flooded forest and coursed my way back to the log and my shoes. I was the first to skate on the new black ice, and I knew when I got home my mother would probably fix me some hot cider with a stick of cinnamon.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. On October 7, 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.

Photo courtesy of Ivan Radic.