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I don't intend to be an olive

From a very young age, Ive been fascinated by ice. I believe it is the best part of winter. It is far more exciting than snow, faster, colorful and more intricate. As it grows, it moans, bellows and roars; yet it flows with a grace, style and personality all its own. Snow, although drifted, patterned and airborne, doesnt even compare. And when it comes to performance, ice races away easily. Snow hasnt got a chance. As huge ice-flows set up upon Adirondack cliffs; the resulting colors can range from emerald green to mud brown, with hues of blue, red and orange. Ice lake forming can create rumbles heard for miles as cracks race across the surface at amazing speeds. Pressure heaves can create open water in a moments notice and explode with a crack that sounds like a huge whip. When ice breaks up, it is a force to be reckoned with. Ice dams can stop a river or move a house. Sheets of ice can calf off a cliff in slabs the size of a bus or cause a mountain to slide off to sheer bedrock. The power of ice is unrelenting. Ive witnessed lake ice lift a two story boathouse completely off its foundation and displace the entire building a few feet up on shore. It can split rocks, crush trees and raise havoc with anything man made, from bottles to boats, that attempts to contain it. Ice is also extremely exciting due to properties that permit nearly frictionless travel. Prior to the advent of the internal combustion engine, lake ice was responsible for the fastest vehicle on earth as ice boats owned the world record for speed. The current iceboating world record stands at an amazing,153 miles per hour. However, ice is also very unforgiving as I learned at an early age in oversized skates, propped up by a hockey stick and a prayer. There were bruised knees, chipped teeth, cracked elbows, fat lips and many a sore behind. Yet, Ill never forget the thrill of skating on the transparent ice of the Boquet River. I was too young to realize the inherent dangers. It was a lesson that we had all learned the hard way. When a hockey puck was shot to the riverbank; the smallest kid was always sent to retrieve it. Invariably, someone went in. Since the river we played on was never more than a few feet deep; there was never more than a couple of wet legs. Though we lost a fair share of hockey pucks; we never lost a teammate. Ive ridden across ice in a horse and sleigh, a dog team and an airplane fitted with skis. Ive even landed a hot air balloon on a frozen lake. Ive raced vehicles ranging from ATVs to snowmobiles; motorcycles to four wheel drives. Ive pulled shanties out on to the ice and later helped to fish them out. As a kid; we never learned the true dangers of traveling on ice. Nor could we have comprehended the reality of those dangers. I believe the ice was thicker then and so too were our heads. In the years since that time, Ive developed a deep respect for and a palpable fear of ice. There have just been too many deaths. Ill still skate, still ride, still glide with the wind across a frozen landscape, but Ill never fully trust it. Is there any wonder why? I recall the Canadian ice climber on Poke-o-Moonshine who fell to his death when the entire ice sheet calved off the mountainside, with him attached. And the many ice fishermen, who couldnt have known that it would be their last outing; especially those who attempted to save a friend. Or snowmobilers that raced across open water in machines that can go 100 mph. The sled may have quit, a ski might have hit a floating chunk of ice or they underestimated the distance of the opening. Worst yet, are the travelers who went into the darkness across a snow-covered lake and never returned. Cold water drowning is impossible for most people to comprehend. No one can understand the difficulty of trying to swim in water that takes your breath away and causes instant cramps. Of struggling to keep your head in a soup full of broken shards of ice, as complete sections disappear under your weight and your strength is sapped by cold, confusion and panic and no matter how hard you try, theres just no way to get out. Already this season, Ive received three reports of snowmobilers falling through the lake ice and at least one other rider that put a sled into the river. Ive also watched as ice fishermen ventured across the snow covered surface of a local lake where open water existed just two days prior. I dont believe there is any fish so valuable that I couldnt wait for safe ice to pursue it. Nor is there any lake or river that cant be skirted on solid ground until it fully sets up. When I travel on early ice, Im in possession of a hockey stick and wearing an ice pick necklace. I dont intend to be an olive in the martini of an Adirondack lake.

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