Kevin Giles, the St. Croix Valley reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, sent a brief email to me Wednesday morning to tell me he was working on a story about ice-out and wondered if I had anything to add.
He wrote, “I observed yesterday on the Lower St. Croix that ice looks thick, but it was cracking and howling near St. Marys Point. The river is open water around the 94 bridge. I’m told the current is faster through there.”
So of course I dropped what I was doing, grabbed a cup of coffee, and checked out some nearby landings to see what there was to see and report back. The article was published yesterday:
On the chilly first day of March, ice covering the Lower St. Croix River gives off ghostly sounds, as if the water beneath was gasping for breath.
The mighty river, just a few weeks away from ice-out, is now approaching that dangerous time of year when its strong current drives unfathomable tons of ice downstream.
“Use caution,” Stillwater ice sailor Kent Nord said last week. “All bodies of water should be respected.”
The St. Croix’s ice-out is a seasonal milestone, a beckoning to those thousands of boaters who wait eagerly for the spring thaw. So do the paddlers, who have waited since autumn to launch canoes and kayaks in the quieter waters north of Stillwater.
One of them is Greg Seitz, who writes a blog titled St. Croix 360.
“That first warm day gets me dreaming, and then it’s just a painful wait,” he said last week after exploring ice conditions at Marine on St. Croix and Scandia.
I have boating fever bad. Open water seems like nothing more than a myth. I last paddled on an unseasonably warm day in mid-December; if I can get out again soon, the off-season will have been as short as ever. (Thank you, global warming-fueled El Niño Extremo.)
The first trip of spring is often dubbed the Annual Waterfowl Harassment Tour, due to the poor nervous birds that burst out from the banks every couple hundred yards. But some years, we get out there when big clear chunks of ice still bob in the runoff flood, and no bird is even thinking about trying to roost in such conditions, winter’s silence the last to leave.
In any case, I have glad tidings. The ice on the “middle St. Croix” only needs a few warm sunny days to really break up. After our false start on spring a couple weeks ago, all the snow is gone from the surface, which will help because it won’t insulate the ice. The ice is clear and dark, refrozen after being quite soft. Nowhere is safe for walking.
At Marine, there were several slivers of open water. Across the river at Somerset Landing, two people were throwing chunks of ice into some open water, the splashes reaching my ears a beat after my eyes. Two big slabs six inches thick rested askew in the middle, like tectonic mountains.
At Log House Landing I briefly believed one could safely paddle in the narrow channel on the west side. Crows cawed crow conversation and and woodpeckers hammered deep in the woods. All was otherwise quiet.
I imagine the ice will go out around the same time we are boiling maple syrup. I wonder if they usually coincide?
As of lunchtime today, the channel of dark open water at the Boom Site had widened considerably. That’s good, because I know I’m not alone in trying hard to avoid thinking about being afloat right now.
Afloat, adrift, alive. Do a water dance.