River Bum Log: St. Croix freezing over as winter comes to the watershed

With the ice increasing, liquid and frozen water combine to create unique images.




3 minute read

The cold weather finally caught up with us. After dipping below freezing and then lingering above it over the past month, a real cold snap hit this week.

Ice floes had floated down my home stretch of the St. Croix already, but the river had opened up again when the weather got warmer. Other parts of the river, north where it’s colder and south where it’s slower, have more ice. (Please send photos and reports!)

This time, the ice seems like it’s here to stay a while.

I stopped at Log House Landing Wednesday afternoon and yesterday morning to check out the situation. Freeze-up can be fleeting and tough to observe.

Wednesday there was a narrow margin of ice along the shore. It cracked and creaked as the current lapped against it. But the channel was clear. It was then that I saw how small chunks broke off and collided with other chunks to create the larger rafts that went downstream.

After the temperature dropped into the single digits Fahrenheit overnight, in the morning there was more ice along the edge and big floes heading south.

Speeding toward the slow season

The little clip below of the ice floes is significantly sped up — the four seconds or so represents about three minutes. The movement at its real speed is nearly imperceptible to the casual observer.

It was a little cold standing there for several minutes while the camera filmed, but I was pleased with how it turned out, showing the march of winter coming from the north.

The water rushing down the last few yards of Gilbertson Creek to the river next to the landing crossed rock-hard sand saturated with frozen water. At these low levels, the creek was a little longer than during the previous season. The water seemed stiffer, folding on itself as it squeezed through the channel.

Snowbird swans come south again

Just after I turned the camera off, seven trumpeter swans came flying down the river. They flew in a small V, but seemed to be swerving back and forth. A couple minutes later, six more followed.

The birds mostly nest along ponds and wetlands, not the river, and mostly farther north. But their migrations in the spring and fall, and the large numbers that populate every pocket of open water along the St. Croix all winter, make them familiar sights — when their white feathers can be picked out of the snowy landscape.

Trumpeter swans above the St. Croix

While attending the Christmas tree-lighting party in Stillwater on Saturday afternoon, with a thousand or so other moms, dads, kids, grandparents, and assorted residents, as the last of the daylight dwindled, an outrageously bright, almost full moon rose over the bluff across the river.

There were lots of geese flying down and across the river, so it wasn’t surprising that a flock of swans went unnoticed by most of the crowd. But as the Teddy Bear finished their set, as Santa Claus rode in on a fire truck, the largest waterfowl in North America flew down the middle of the St. Croix, seeking a safe place for the long night ahead.

I saw my first swans of the fall a few weeks ago at William O’Brien State Park and wrote this little haiku poem:

Trumpeters return
Pushed downstream by freeze-up
Snow follows their wings