Walking on Winter Water

In October and November, it is cold, it is brown, it is dead, it is dull and we wait. We wait for the cold to overcome this tail end of fall when the leaves have blown away and the branches scrape the overcast sky. We wait for snow and ice, and hope that the ice comes first, because we know, the snow will eventually cover it all.

The magic happens as the nights of cold build on each other until the ice is at least four inches thick. Then we celebrate in sweet release. Our blades have been sharpened, our closets cleared for snow clothes, we have rematched mittens and gloves: We are ready. For this inaugural skate, we headed to Rabbit Slough.

Rabbit Slough winds for miles and miles out to the Knik River. We didn’t make it very far as there was so much to see. This is a well-loved swath of frozen water, so the earlier in the season you get out, the smoother the ice.

It was obviously cold enough for hoar frost to grow and we found some spectacular crystals overtaking whatever edges they could.

Frozen bubbles don’t freeze round! They seem to be slowly encased by ice as they try and squirm away. We investigated long stretches of bubbles. And we also loved discovering the layers in which the slough froze. The dividing lines had thinner and thinner ice closer to the shore. There were also vertical layers of freezing.

And we discovered this by seeing schools of fish swimming beneath our skates. They were slowly becoming trapped between the two layers of ice, and often we found them closer to the shore which distressed the kids to no end. They tried to ‘herd’ them towards the deeper water in the middle where we could see slough grasses waving in a current.

Alas, we found a lot of corpses. There was some debate about cryopreservation and the likelihood of being able to revive these little guys, but our son had no luck digging one out with his skate. So we had to leave them to their natural demise.

We came back on a sunnier day, a week later with friends,

and skated out past where the bushes crowd the banks until we reached the meadowed flats. Some of the older kids made it a few more miles on this pure, glorious bliss.

While some of us collapsed a bit sooner and might have whined a bit on the way back. Despite the whining, it was easy to see how the group was able to glide past 10+ miles.

After the wait, is there anything more marvelous than early winter?

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