Molecules and Stuff
by: Mike Lushington  

            On mornings such as this, I stare out my window as I search for an idea for this column. I could have worse places to look to for an idea; my window allows me to see across the river to Escuminac on the far side. It is an altogether spectacular view at any time of the year. That view is what prompted me to establish my "office' here in the attic of the old house. It compensates for the fact that the attic is often extremely hot in summertime and, on very brisk January mornings such as this, bracingly chilly in winter.

            For the past few weeks, I have been preoccupied, whenever I look out, with the progress that the ice is making in the estuary. On still, cold mornings, I can see a film of new ice extending across the whole stretch of water - a distance of about eight kilometres to the far shore. Then the tide will shift, or the wind will pick up, and open patches appear and I realize that it will be some time yet before I can start watching for the big smelt fishing rigs to be set up out in the channel. Around the New Year, we had a stretch of unseasonably mild weather and the ice all but disappeared. For several days I could see decreasing amounts of it flow down the channel on the falling tides until even the large sheet that usually covers Escuminac Cove at this time of year practically disappeared. (On the Friday after New year's Day, I drove up by Shaw's Cove; there was nothing but open water anywhere. I couldn't believe it when I saw several people and a shanty on the same stretch of water the following day - a small pan of ice had formed with the return to colder weather overnight and they apparently thought it safe to set up. They were wrong.)

            On this morning though, there is ample promise that the river may finally lock in. The water has been super-chilled for some time and is just waiting for an opportunity to freeze and the cold overnight has provided much of that opportunity. If the forecast is correct and we get the hard cold that is predicted for the next few days, it should make, even if there is wind.

            The whole process is fascinating to me. On such a large, salty body, the water actually has to be colder than freezing temperature for ice to form. It starts in the little coves and other places sheltered from the prevailing winds and begins to inch out from there. Finally enough ice is formed that even as it breaks up with the winds and tides, it clogs the waterways sufficiently that the wind (in particular) no longer has the same effect. If we experience sufficiently low temperatures during a time of relatively low tides, it is a foregone conclusion. I remember one time a few years back. I was down on the shore, looking for birds, on a still, cold day in early January. I could actually watch and hear ice form, see the water transform from liquid to solid and hear the snap of (I would imagine) air pockets as they were entrapped by the solidifying molecules.

            This morning, though, the wind blows and I have this column to write. I am content to sit here, in my relatively comfortable little aerie (I have had my heater running for an hour) and imagine the processes taking place before me. It may be just my imagination but it really seems to me that there is more ice out there now than there was when I started a little while ago. Time will tell. In the meanwhile, though, I am content to watch. Unlike those unwise smelt fishers of last weekend, I will be in no hurry to test my observations first hand. I leave that to the younger and more foolish, or to the older and much wiser.


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