Tonight, on the eve of Snowmageddon, I did a thing that every Mainer does on the day before a nor’easter, and something no one does. Priorities first, I went grocery shopping. From the look of the store shelves, half of the town had been there before me. If you’re from Maine you know how it is. Any other week you can wait a few days if you’re low on eggs, milk, chips or salsa...but not if there is a winter storm a-brewin’!
That errand taken care of, I proceeded home. While unloading my car after dark, I noticed how beautiful the night was. Looking up, I could see some stars and an airplane darting across the sky. And while it was cold, there was no wind. Dressed properly a Mainer can stand just about any amount of cold - as long as it’s not windy. I decided to fill the bird feeders. My bird friends needed their groceries like I needed mine...even after dark.
That’s when I noticed the lake calling. I noticed its subtly white profile and heard its murmurings. A winter lake is not silent, not when the temps are below freezing. Had I walked across this beauty yet? It is a winter ritual in our home to walk across the lake at least once.
Yes, once. But I had never, ever walked across it in the dark. I knew the way would be easy going because last week was a thaw and then we had had five days of wicked cold to freeze things up again. Tomorrow, with 12-18 inches of snow, it would be a different story. I decided I would do this crazy thing and walk across the lake....at close to 11 pm.
It was at this point that I realized no other Mainer was joining me.
So I donned snow pants, parka, neck-warmer, boot, hat and gloves. I set out. It was at this point that I realized no other Mainer was joining me. There is something unnerving about setting out at 11pm on a lake that had puddles on the ice the week before. Especially when no one knows you intend to walk a quarter of a mile across it.
It’s wasn’t truly dark when I set out, because a full moon was casting shadows of the tree branches on the snow. The lake itself was almost gleaming in the moonshine. Small patches of snow contrasted with the ice, which because of the melt, was not 100% smooth. The moon was at my back.
I concentrated on watching my step. No matter how much the intellect knows five days of temps in the teens freezes lake puddles, the emotions are still wary. What if there was a pocket of thin ice? What if an expansion crack causes water to bubble up around you?
There is something unnerving about setting out at 11 pm on a lake that had puddles on the ice the week before.
Expansion Cracks? Yes, frozen water expands, just like the ice cubes in a tray. Except on a lake, when it expands, it cracks. The expanding ice pushes up onto the shore. Usually that provides enough ‘give’, much like an ice cube overgrowing its container. But occasionally a wicked cold streak can cause one layer of ice to actually overlap another in the middle of the lake, with water seeping at the seam...until it, too, freezes.
The sound of the cracking varies in intensity from muffled to piercing. Sometimes the lake groans, other times you could swear someone set off a pistol. This night was somewhere in between.
Needless to say, my mind was not completely on the beauty of the night, it was also on the safety of this endeavor. And the piercing sound of ice cracking it enough to unnerve anyone....especially when it cracks within 8 feet of you, as it did to me. Could this be why I was alone out on the lake?
I could see those lights from two miles away.
By now I was almost to the halfway point, a mark I know well from swimming across the lake in the summer. It was there I decided to turn around. My fingers and toes were starting to get cold, and, well, why tempt fate? Upon doing a 180, the full beauty of the moon struck me. It was large, it was low, and its lingering light lit my way home. Homeward I trod, now moving more confidently and taking in the night’s wonder.
I started contemplating what all the other lake residents were doing. Was anyone else awake? Was anyone else even looking at this beautiful night? Most of the homes were dark, but I counted six that had light streaming from a window or two. Even one at the far end of the lake, almost two miles distant. I could see those lights from two miles away. That surprised me.
It made me realize that if all the rest of the lakeside were wild, if all the rest of the homes were mere camps and vacant at this time of year...I could still head for those lights two miles away and find warmth.
Darkness is the absence of light. With light comes hope.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:14