Saturday, January 05, 2008
Ice is Nice
When I awoke this morning, I was mildly surprised to see a skim of ice had formed on the lake. It IS that time of year, I suppose, but the ice usually forms at the lake's extremities first, giving ample warning. This morning's ice seemed to cover most of the lake. Why "warning," you might well ask. For those not familiar with lakeside living, ice can ruin a dock. It tends to move, especially as it thaws in the spring. What you want to avoid at all costs is having the ice form firmly around the pilings that hold up your dock, for when it begins to move, it will take the pilings with it, and in the extreme case, the dock in question will lose its support and end up in the water, which would put a crimp in next summer's festivities.
To prevent this, dock owners install an "ice-away." In the old days, a channel perhaps three feet wide was cut in the ice by hand with large saws around the perimeter of the dock to give the ice somewhere to move without causing damage. In a very cold winter, this had to be done every few weeks. I have fond memories of blocks of ice several inches thick arranged like a crystal Stonehenge around the old dock. It is much easier to simply push the cut blocks out of the way under the surrounding ice, but the old fellow who cut ours knew we liked to ice skate, and he pulled some of the blocks up and set them upright to make an obstacle course of sorts. His motive, as I think of it, was probably to create a sort of fence so that we would not to come too close to the channel, but we skated around them nonetheless.
Manual cutting was replaced with power cutting, and our old gentleman created a thing that looked for all the world like a plow, but it had a gas engine and a huge circular blade. Even so, it was tough and frigid work. The next evolution was the "bubbler." It seemed that someone had discovered that if you could create a disturbance in the water and brings some of the deeper, "warmer" water to the surface, the combination of the turbulence and the warmer water would keep the ice from forming. So the bubble consisted of a length of hose sufficient to surround the dock with little pin holes in it. the hose was weighted to make it sink to the bottom. The end of the hose was attached to an air compressor which forced a stream of tiny bubbles through the pin holes and created the turbulence from the bottom up. It was a quantum leap beyond sawing, but it still had its problems. Sometimes the holes would clog or the compressor would give out.
The bubbler was replaced maybe 30 years ago by the current state of the art - the Ice-Away. It's a classic example of a simple solution to a vexing problem. The same effect - bringing the warmer bottom water to the surface with some turbulence - was found to be easily accomplished by a submersible propeller facing upward. Sometimes the propeller, or fan, is on the end of a long pole, sometimes suspended by a pair of lines attached to cleats on either side of a boat slip. Unless your dock is quite large, one of these babies will keep you ice free.
But you have to remember to put it in about this time of year, and I had not. So I called up good neighbor Joe and we got it done in about ten minutes. It's a two man job, not because there's any exertion involved, but because you have to have someone on each end of the ropes. Plug it in - voila!
That's probably more than you wanted to know about the annual Ice-Away rite, but it leads neatly into today's photo offering. After Joe retreated to resume his holiday festivities, I took a wistful walk around the shoreline and I noticed an odd sound - creaking, a bit of crackling, and even bit of scraping. The ice was moving! There was a slight breeze out of the northeast, and as the very thin ice had begun to break up as the day warmed a bit, it broke apart and was carried by the breeze.
Taking a closer look, I discovered something worth preserving, and I hope you will agree!