Andrew Buckley: The Ice

A long stretch of light gray cloudy glass ran up the narrow inlet, thick and heavy. In the mild – as much as one should ever expect in early January, especially following a two week stretch of solidly-below 20 degree temperatures – air, the cool breeze from the southeast carried moisture.

Rain had been forecast for later, and on top of the still-frozen ground, created the danger of flooding. My gravel driveway had begun to thaw rapidly, to a point, and my foot moved upon a surface that felt like walnuts scattered upon cold brownie batter.

What was near 50 today and tomorrow would then become 24 degrees by the end of the day. Caught just wrong, it could be a flash-freeze creating endless swathes of black ice by the evening.

But that was tomorrow’s peril. What held my attention this morning was the state of Rock Harbor.  I’d come here from my physical therapy appointment to heal my back injury-du-jour. Slippery surfaces were in my awareness, and now I was looking at a massive one.

A single sheet – no – a single layer of ice extended from the dock at the fish market down the channel to the end of the jetty and beyond, out into the bay. It was broken only by a thin line marking the pilings that runs parallel to the channel. There, another, narrower slab lay parallel, solid to the bulkhead.

Where I had once walked with friends, watching Sofie run along the docks below the parking lot, there was nothing. Nothing but the ice, brutal and blank in the gray sky it reflected glassily.

Certainly I’ve seen ice before. Growing up on the Oyster Pond, I would wait and watch to see if it would freeze over in the winter. One very unusual Christmas, we managed to get snow the night before. I woke to find the salt water overnight covered by a blanket of snow. It may have been that winter when my father brought an axe and an eel pole and took me out onto the pond. The ice was a foot thick. And I still was amazed that by simply sticking the long pole into the mud, in the first hole, we snagged an eel.

There were winters when it never froze. That’s been my measure of how hard a winter it is. Did the OP freeze? And secondly, for how long? Three years ago, during the Winter From Hell, it stayed frozen through March. But then, all the harbors froze and no one could get out to go clamming or quahoging. What we had this past New Year’s was a mini-version of that, lest we forget.

The sudden warm up and the rain had come to sweep and polish the surface of Rock Harbor. No snow remained. A thin layer of fresh water, being less dense than salt water, floated on top. I once tripped going up the main staircase at the State House. Marble is very hard when applied directly to the knee. That’s what this harbor ice reminded me of. Beautiful, cold, indifferently dangerous.

This winter was forecast to be more mild than usual. It doesn’t feel so, but February could bring daffodils for all we know now. This mis-projection by NOAA does not undercut their expertise as much as it does raise the increasing erratic nature of weather. While the eastern third of North America was extremely cold for an extended period, the rest of the world was hitting record highs. Asphalt was melting in Australia.

It is not unconnected – the cold that would normally be in the rest of the world, and especially in the Arctic, got pushed down to us.

The political ramifications when the center of world and economic policy making is getting the exact opposite climate as the rest of the world is troubling. If you don’t think politicians won’t make decisions based on what’s out the window you’ve never been to a ski resort in northern New Hampshire in March. What if an unanticipated effect of climate change means we here get our own bubble of climate the polar opposite of everyone else on the planet?

It certainly won’t change sea level rise. That is happening. Tides on the shore are higher than when I was a kid, on regular basis. The flooding we saw in the Little Beach area of Chatham was bound to happen, but no one thought this soon. Maybe during a tropical hurricane, not followed by ice floes.

With the decimation of our barrier beach system, now flattened and scattered to the south and west, we’re exposed like never before to the Atlantic. Summer and winter. All the time. This is the New Normal.

These are the facts. The water is higher, and getting higher. We’re going to feel that. Even if it’s colder here, it is hotter everywhere else. Whether we choose to believe it makes no matter to the ocean that covers most of this planet. It will come for us, the shore dwellers, indifferently. If not with blistering heat, then solidly in ice.