Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Everything in the world is beautiful, but Man only recognizes beauty if he sees it either seldom or from afar...

Vladimir Nabokov, short story "Gods"

Today's post will be entirely bird-free, which I think will be a first for this blog. In it, we will approach and study two ice floes in Lake Superior, look at sheets of ice washed up on one of its beaches, and, if we have time, take a look at a hole in the sky. Sounds good? Let's go.

Here are several ice floes drifting around in Lake Superior, just off the very tip of Whitefish Point, Michigan, photographed on 7 April 2009 at 11:02 AM. A 'mother and calf', if you will, are visible on the right. Let's get a little closer. (Clicking on any of these photos will open a new window with an enlarged view.)

They are white with a blueish hue.

And they are beautiful.

The little one is actually quite transparent, and apparently of a different lineage from the big one.

The big one undoubtedly has snow mixed in with ice. It is often windy here. Lake water washed with big rolling waves onto the beach, and these waves broke on the frozen shore, where a small part of them remained behind as it built on gigantic blocks of ice mixed with snow. This is how it happened throughout the winter, until about a month ago.

About a week after these photos were taken, I heard a loud "CRACK!" coming from the shore. It was the sound made by the birth of another ice floe. Only two days ago, I saw a very small, dying ice floe off the tip of Whitefish Point. Me and the waterbird counter joked that it was getting late for them, that they should really be gone by now, as if they were wintering birds.

The little one is quite brilliant and mysterious in its own way.

Slowly but surely, each is going its own way, toward their own death and dissolve, the smaller one a lot closer to that goal obviously. Some of the water particles that they consist of may have been frozen several years ago, some several millions of years ago, and some never before... Never in the history of the universe have they been together in this configuration, and never again will they be. At no point in time did these structures contain a fixed number of such particles: these objects were always 'fluid around the edges', either growing or diminishing in size, forever changing in shape...

This is what they looked like that particular Tuesday morning in April of 2009...

These are thin sheets of ice photographed not far from the earlier location, on 12 April 2009, 6:44 AM. The frozen water particles in these sheets had been freely flowing about as, well, unfrozen water particles, only a day earlier. They were about to resume that nearly timeless activity only hours later.

There wasn't much wind, and obviously the calm weather with those clear skies had helped form these sheets overnight. A light breeze caused just enough motion of the water to break these thin sheets and pile them on top of one another. The process of that happening was accompanied by a soft rustle from the ice sheets sliding ever so gently over one another...

This is a view toward Whitefish Point State Harbor.

This is from a day later, 13 April 2009, 6:50 AM, photo taken in that harbor. There was a little more wind now, and all these sheets moved slightly up and down in a sinuous motion, as small waves rolled onto the edge of the ice and, lifting it, continued toward the shoreline. I have some video of that, but uploading it here won't do it much good. You can try to imagine it; the image in your mind will be much more beautiful than what I can show here in a heavily down-sized video...

If you do perform that mental representation of small waves rolling through thin sheets of ice, try to imagine also the rustling noise made by the sheets gently sliding over each other.

And finally, since you actually made it down this far into today's blog entry, I figure you should be rewarded with this image of a bubble of - warmer? colder? - air over Lake Superior. It didn't last long and I don't know what caused it. Photo taken 15 April 2009, 2:02 PM, Whitefish Point, Michigan.