Years ago, when I was a teenager, I was sitting at a small pier called Portage Entry on Lake Superior. Midnight was nearing; Christmas was weeks away. It was cold, and the water in the canal and lake was thick with ice and snow.
My ears stung a little from the cold. They ached when the hood of my coat brushed them.
A red light was blinking on a bouy. Its pulse reflected off the frozen water.
A fishing boat was moored just feet away from me. I could see where the ice had been broken around it, and where the new ice had locked it in.
There was nothing else around. It was quiet.
I was meditating on the rhythm of the wind and the feel of the world around me. My mind wandered and it returned. It too has a rhythm.
Then the lake spoke. Not to me; I was just there to hear it.
It was first a hiss that started far out in the lake, past the bouy. I heard a distant pop, and then the hiss raced from out in the darkness to my right, down into the canal and past me, off to my left. It was quiet, and as it neared me, louder. And softer as it slithered deeper into the canal.
I listened for more, my heart picked up a little. My eyes scanned the surface of the ice, but it was dark. I could make out few details.
Then a deeper sound followed the path of the hiss. It was a sound that I find hard to describe, because of its dynamic, bassy sound. It was a series of very low pops, some groans, and a deep rending sound. It traveled from my right to my left as well, a string of small explosions.
It passed and the lake became quiet again.
I was standing up now, closer to the edge of the pier, examing the ice. For what, I do not know, but I wanted to see something that would testify to me that I had, in fact, heard what I think I heard.
The ice was moving. I knew that from the sound, though I had never heard it before. I thought of plate tectonics, of huge pieces of the earth’s crust moving and colliding. This was ice.
In a moment, the fishing boat, moored so close, began to groan. It lurched and began to twist. The ropes pulled taut. I heard it grind against the cement of the pier.
I stood there in awe for a while, listening to the ice move more freely now. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. I soon remembered that I was freezing; the boat was still fighting for its position when I got in my car and drove away.