I promised myself that I would add one of these stories here every time I told one. I tell them at one point or another throughout the summer. There will be no chronology - not yet anyway - nor will there be much of a schedule. You never know; I might add a story every day and I might not. This is my life. Every day is an adventure.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Sound of - - - - Break-up

I bet you thought I was going to say 'music'. Well, keep that in mind, break-up is rather musical.

My sister sent a message to much of the rest of my family, telling them of my post about when my brothers came up here to visit. One thing she said was that, to me, my life seems mundane, even boring. Though not boring, to me my life is mundane. This is my life. These kinds of things happen all the time - sort of. That said, I love my life, and if your questions can prompt me to examine some part of my life in such a way that can allow you to share the experience, then I'm thrilled. In reply to that email, which included me this time, my brother wanted to know what breakup sounded like. So let's see if I can make you hear with words.

I've been hashing this over in my head for hours and the best word I can come up with is 'Pow'. That's Pow with a lot of emphasis on 'P', and the 'ow' rather foreshortened. Say it in your head with lots of 'P' and the 'ow' really short and you have most of the sound. Now, the next step is to imagine that sound coming from a drum, and that drum is in a large empty room - think echos and acoustics. Yeah, I'm getting into music.

With all that in mind, I need to talk a little about the ice. The river is a pretty big river I guess. Having grown up in the Great American Desert, my experience with rivers is rather limited, however, The Yentna is probably about as wide as your eight-lane highway and that's including the meridian in the middle. And as rivers go, there's a give and take on that width.

As we all know, ice expands as it freezes, and as rivers go, as ice freezes the water that's creating it is also going down - running away faster than it's freezing and faster than new spring water can feed it. However, the water doesn't run away too fast, else the ice would be left high and quite dry and very dangerous. During the course of freeze-up, as the ice builds in mass, it follows the dictates of gravity and eventually sags. If it sags enough, water is pushed up through cracks, if there are any, and around the edges. This water pools on the top of the ice and freezes, creating yet another layer of ice. This happens to some extent every time the temperature warms up. Warm temperature somewhere means some snow melted somewhere upriver which puts more water under the ice, but now that the ice is thick and heavy, the water has nowhere to go but on top. More ice is added on the bottom too during the coldest days. Ultimately, during the course of the winter, upwards of three feet of ice has accumulated. There's more some places and less some places but three feet is a good average.

Needless to say, three feet of ice is a lot of ice, and it takes quite a bit of force to break it, and it is exerting that force on itself all the time. That volume of ice trying to expand as ice does, creates a lot of force.

Along comes spring, longer days, warmer days, days that stay warmer longer, and along with that comes more water. As you all know ice floats, even huge volumes of ice like I've just described. However, by now all that ice is really stuck to the banks and leaking around the edges, though it happens quite a bit, can't happen fast enough. The ice breaks.

Now back to our sound and those drums. Have you ever watched a crack develop across a windshield? It starts with a rock thrown up by someone's tire, and then this line creeps across the glass, maybe it's a single line, maybe it grows fingers that also creep and grow. Ice does the same thing only pretty fast. In your imagination, place one of those drums along the ice at every potential corner, crinkle, and finger and at every joint of said finger. As soon as the first crack gives way, at the first drum's Pow, a domino effect occurs, and by the time the sound from one drum reaches the next one, it sounds off, and then the next, and then the next, all in a row, all echoing, and each one of them a tiny fraction of a different note.

Here we get into sound-waves. As sound travels away from you, the note gets lighter. If it is coming toward you, it gets heavier.

Standing on the edge of the river when the 'drums' sound off, whether it starts in front of you and runs off away up or down river, or whether is starts somewhere away from you and travels toward you, it has a profound affect on you. That echoing PowPowPow (the series may be as few as a handful or take as long as a minute) will enthrall, thrill and frighten you all at once. You are enthralled at the amazing sound, though no visible change took place in front of you. You are thrilled by the magnitude of power so displayed though you can scarcely grasp what that power really is. And you are frightened as the sound sends chills up your spine and goose-flesh down your arms.

All of this brings me to a story that happened to me during my first winter out here. We were care-taking at a lodge up Lake Creek and we'd made friends with the care-takers at Riversong across the Yentna. Now eventually both the care-takers at Riversong and us got snowmachines but I don't rightly remember if either of us had them yet. We probably did since there was a trail and it was more than a foot trail. Anyway, I like to walk, and for a reason I can't remember anymore, I was walking back from Riversong one nice day. I was out in the middle of that river, walking on upwards of likely more than three feet of ice and at least another several feet of snow - it was a REALLY heavy snow year that year thanks to Mount Readoubt - when the drums sounded off. PowPowPowPow - the sound traveled directly across in front of me, and then the ice under my feet dropped about six inches. In the front of my mind, I know that nothing the ice could do right now was a danger to me, but to have that much ice just go down, no matter the inches, under my feet was heart stopping. Needless to say, I froze in my tracks. A few feet in front of me I could see the crack - the trail now had a very visible step up.

The ice didn't break because of my presence, my weight was as a feather when compared to all that ice. The break would have happened whether I had made my trip five minutes earlier or later. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. There was no water, no danger at all and no further drum-roll, yet it took me what seemed like forever to start breathing again. No, I didn't hurry off the ice, I was in no danger, it was all so very awesome and I've never been so scared in my life. It is one of those experiences I will never forget.

I hope I was able to help you hear break-up. It really is something worth the experience.