The snow we had several days a go hung on over the weekend. It’s still cold, but that is due to change as temperatures begin to climb again this week. Experiencing the Falls of the Ohio during these conditions is one of my favorite things to do because the landscape is transformed so evocatively. The snow changes sound quality. I feel as though I hear things better. Even the notion of time seems different, but that’s harder to explain. It is more of a feeling of rearranged priorities and participating in something elemental and ancient. Fewer people are out and the park feels like it’s mine. I have materials in my collecting bag and I’m going to make something today.
Near the river’s edge the ice formations are wonderful. I spent a good part of my visit just admiring the many shapes that frozen water can take and the way it can bend light. I took many photographs and plan a future post on just ice formations. The willow trees serve as armatures for the ice to build upon. Mist generated from the constantly moving and warmer water from the river seems to coat the willows in successive layers of ice that get bigger and bigger the longer the days stay below freezing. Ice stalactites and stalagmites, frozen candlelabras, and what I describe in my mind as ice sausages, candles, and ribbons hang from the delicately thin branches of the willows. Everything seems dipped and coated in glass.
Because the snow is covering up my usual sources of Styrofoam, I reach into the old collecting bag and begin the first of two figures I made on this day. I usually start by matching shapes. For example, this hunk of Styrofoam seems like it would make a good head to go on this chunk of Styrofoam which will serve as the body. I look for expressive sticks or branches that will become the limbs. I also spend more time on the details of the head since it will act as a focal point. On this figure, the eyes are pieces of river-shaped coal, the ears are wood chips, the mouth is the cap from some tube of something, the nose is off of a fishing bobber. I topped him off with a plastic toy element I found that features what looks like a man blowing air from his mouth. I imagine he’s a zephyr or old man winter.
As beautiful as these conditions can be…there is also a very real hint of danger. You don’t want to get wet. I remember last year stepping through the ice of a snow-covered puddle that was maybe 8 inches deep. There was that initial rush of incredible cold followed by a painful, burning sensation! I immediately started walking back to my vehicle and by the time I reached it, my shoes and the lower part of my trousers were frozen solid. My feet, however, felt oddly warm, but I didn’t want to take any chances with frost bite. I took a nice shower and changed clothes once I reached home just six miles away over the 2nd Street Bridge.
When I was a boy, one of the short stories that impressed me for its realism was Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”. It’s a winter tale of life stripped bare to its essentials. For me, it was an early inkling of what I would perceive as nature’s indifference towards man. I remember the character in the story who also became wet, struggling valiantly to build his fire to warm his frozen body, and just when he was on the verge of success, falling snow from an overhead tree limb dooms him, his fire, and the last of his matches. Back in grade school, reading stories about people who didn’t make it seemed especially profound on my impressionable mind.