While there may be scenery in our region that seems to mimic landscapes elsewhere (parts of the northern Great Lakes shores can resemble the Pacific Northwest; our dunes and beaches look like the Atlantic shores of New England), one thing we have that few other regions nationwide have is variety. Not only can a visit to a place like Point Pelee vary from week to week, it can vary from the time spent walking north up a beach for an hour, then back.
Last week’s visit to Point Pelee, Ontario’s (Canada’s, for that matter) southernmost point, gave us hours of walking past ice formations Andy Goldsworthy wouldn’t bother changing. The east shore was a work of art from bottom to top. The ice was stacked, creaking, groaning, toppling on occasion, showcased against miles of open water framing it from behind.
This week, the lake looking east was frozen as far as the eye could see.
As I walked along, I was struck not only by noises the ice made, but by the sense of a living presence they conveyed. Thinking the Lake a Being wasn’t fanciful, quaint, or mystical, it was good common sense. One stretch of ice made certain sounds, specific consonants; another stretch, others. The first series of “words”: “Wherp! Whip, whip! Whoooop!” Slightly farther, the Lake said, “Chert! Chip! Sherrrrp!” A spot peppered with small round holes, through which water was regularly being forced, made reverse-drip sounds: “Ploink! Ploonk! Ploonk!”
Compared to last week’s Art Show, and seemingly gale-force winds from the west, yesterday’s east shore was breezy, much of the Art gone, with that arctic landscape as far as the eye could see.
But that breeze out of the northeast was growing. Sounds were accumulating far out on the ice, grinding, roaring, escalating to the sound of four or five trains, then four or five trains wrecking; it grew louder and louder and sounded as though some dramatic event was about to happen, although the icescape looked the same. The breeze was steady, not strong, but enough to chill even a bundled-up person in the 23-degree temperature. I waited as the noise increased, reluctant to miss perhaps the kind of event that caused last week’s gallery. The roar grew louder, cannon noises joined the din, the sounds of glass breaking, then thin, brittle plastic, mixed with grinding, grinding, grinding. The breeze was directly in my face and I expected the ice to suddenly, or gradually, be pushed towards me. Still, the ice remained static.
Then I noticed, 20 to 30 feet offshore, a movement. The breeze was pushing the ice not directly to shore, but straight south. A massive pack of lake ice, far too large to see across, was moving parallel to the beach, gaining speed, sometimes revealing open stretches of water, sometimes grinding against the fixed ice, breaking, stacking, collapsing, restacking, only to collapse again. Large pieces looking like window glass would stand up, topple. The still-floating ice, being pushed by the inexorable breeze and all the moving ice behind it, would steadily ram any obstacle, breaking, stacking, sometimes getting pushed under the barrier of pieces, sometimes climbing briefly onto the stack before breaking, one huge piece after another, a miniature lesson in Plate Tectonics.