Ice pans float down the river. I walk across the rocks, frozen in place, out onto the ice attached to shore. The ice is stable. It’s already a few inches thick and sufficient enough to hold my weight above the water flowing below. I move cautiously towards its edge, stopping a foot and a half shy. Kneeling down, I grab my empty water jugs. With the jugs in hand, I sprawl out on the ice into a prone position, further balancing my weight, as I fill up. A couple weeks ago, the temperature had dropped permanently below freezing. Early that morning, the temperature hovered around 0 degrees (F). The water temperature was higher, but not much of a respite from the outdoor air, at a couple degrees above freezing. My hand stings as I submerge the jug. The constant sound of the ice pans sloshing against the shore ice keeps me company. The upper halves of the mountains, surrounding the valley, are covered with snow. Any boats in the area have been tucked away, where they’ll remain dormant until spring. There’s anticipation in the air. Although it’s cold, travel is restricted. With their open channels the creeks and rivers prevent people from travelling about the country without some hardships or suffering.
Each winter in the northern country, all bodies of water freeze over. Lakes and ponds are the first, followed by the creeks and finally with the reduced volume of water, the rivers. With their surfaces frozen over, these areas become natural highways for all residents in the region, wildlife and humans alike. The time before this happens is filled with waiting and uncertainty. Waiting for the river to freeze over. Waiting for the ice to become thick enough. And for some, waiting for more snow that would allow travel by means other than foot.
I head to the river every day, checking for advancements in the ice formation. Steadily the ice pans become thicker and thicker, filling up the open channels and shrinking the gap between shores. In some areas, the ice pans become bunched and stall, before breaking away. In others, the pans remain, unable to break down river, decreasing the size of the open channels as the pans freeze over. A few days later, I discover one of the channels completely frozen across. I move out onto the shore ice, going as far as I deem safe, all the while observing the condition of the new ice. Back on shore, I pry up a rock frozen in place. Moving back towards the ice I lob the rock towards the center of the newly formed surface. Plunk! The rock shatters the covering, splashing water on top of the surrounding ice. It remains not thick enough to permit a crossing. Shortly thereafter, I hear word that a section of river had frozen over, enabling one to cross. Testing it for myself, I make small steps out onto the ice, while scanning and observing the conditions in the area. Walking over the main channel, I hear the always slightly unnerving sound of the water flowing beneath the ice. Sure enough, I am able to cross to the other side. Over the next week, most of the river reaches equal thickness, enabling free travel of its surface. Without a significant snowpack and barring warmer temperatures, ice conditions would only become better with time, as the ice gains further thickness. The anticipation is over. Winter has arrived at the Arctic’s door doorstep.