Polar vortex…that’s the new buzz words for us this winter. The Kentuckiana area has tasted this Arctic gift twice so far and we haven’t had a winter this cold in many years. It manifests with the temperature bottoming out around 0 degrees Fahrenheit…colder still with the wind chill. Snow and ice also accompany this blast of icy weather. Once under the spell of the polar vortex…all one can do is ride it out. It’s going to be bone-chilling cold for several days in a row. Even if you know it’s going to happen, you really don’t feel prepared for it. People tape plastic over their windows to trap heat and foil wind. Shoppers rush out to purchase bread and milk. Folks let the faucets drip throughout the day and night to prevent freezing and bursting water pipes. Still, the plumbers are busy. Extra layers of clothes are needed however, you still feel cold around the edges. If there is a weakness in a machine…the extreme cold will find it and this happened to my trusty rivermobile. School may be out, but otherwise it’s pretty much business as usual.
The part about “business as usual” also strikes me as being a bit sad. I am of the opinion that the reason the Earth has winter is to slow everything down and that’s vitally necessary. It’s meant to be reflective and allows a moment for a deep breath before moving on again. We all have more than enough pushing us to accomplish tasks at increasing breakneck speed. The polar vortex challenges us to slow down if we can.
In an effort to foster personal wonder for the world, I made it out to the Falls of the Ohio on a day that wouldn’t risk frost bite. Over the years, I have prized coming out here on cold winter days especially if it meant seeing different ice formations. There are ice ribbons, sausage-shaped icicles, frozen homemade candles, and just plain ice blobs on display. I love the variety of forms and the play of light through the magic of solid water. The most interesting ice formations are near the water’s edge where the willow trees catch the rising steam off of the river. The water is warmer than the surrounding air temperatures and this “fog” helps coat the roots and branches with glassy layers of ice. I thought I had the place all to myself when I was joined in this frigid landscape by a new friend.
He described himself as being a fellow “ice tourist” and so that’s how I remember him. He said he was curious about the ice, but also wary of stepping through thin ice and feeling the burn of extremely cold water. I’ve had this experience before and so I could relate. The Ice Tourist told me he had followed my tracks into the ice field and so far I had kept him out of danger. We spent about an hour together before parting. Here are some more pictures of him posed next to the ice formations we encountered.
The Ice Tourist had to check out everything as closely as possible. He would climb upon the willow branches and roots to get the best view. As it turns out, he was a local guy who like me, likes to hang out near the river whenever he can. He was wearing a very thin and worn out t-shirt that said something about the town of Jeffersonville on it. That’s the next town over from the Falls of the Ohio State Park. I mentioned something about the poor condition of his garment and how it didn’t look substantial enough to keep him warm. His response was that feeling warm was as much a mental state of mind and he was far too engaged by this novel environment to feel the cold.
The sun was rising. The day was warming and the ice was beginning to drip and lose its strength. Today’s show was at an end. The image of a hot cup of coffee or cocoa was starting to have great appeal to me and so I said my farewell to the Ice Tourist. Perhaps we will run into one another again at the river…we shall see? Leaving my new friend behind, I walked the riverbank and could see that the Ring-billed gulls that had been absent during the polar vortex were once again in residence in the park. I wonder if the groundhogs will see their shadows tomorrow?