Sometimes it freezes in April

The flood plain of the Prairie River in Balsam Township, Minnesota, after freezing one cold April dawn. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

I walk every day, one of a few good habits that augment my shortcomings. Today, as I often do, I walked up the county road by my house toward the Prairie River.

The river flooded its banks last week. It always does this time of year. I’ve seen it higher, but not by much. Acres of wooded land lies under water, trees poking through the moving current.

Today it was 15 degrees when I left the house at dawn. That is unseasonably cold, but coming off a Minnesota winter it was, to me, a relatively unremarkable temperature. I should have worn a hooded sweatshirt under my coat, but otherwise the walk kept me warm enough.

This walk was unlike any other I’ve experienced, however. I’ve heard the strange, mystical sounds that water makes when it freezes. Sometimes when the lake near our house first ices over it sends out a science fiction boom that can wake you from sleep. 

But that’s a lake. A fixed body of water collected in a single basin. Today, as I walked past the flood plain of the Prairie River, I heard a chorus of cracks, pops, booms, squeaks, and sometimes a tremendous crash. The noise spanned 360 degrees around me. It was the flooded river freezing over on both sides of the highway.

At times I though perhaps a deer had broke through the ice and was thrashing about, but I could see no movement of any kind. Instead, I saw ice creeping up the trunks of each tree. The expanding water molecules crowded up the tree bark as they froze. From a distance everything looked still, but I couldn’t help but notice that the ice grew taller up the tree trunks as I walked.

I threw some pebbles from the shoulder of the road. (See video below) Indeed, they each made a pinging sound as they hit the ice, just like you often see on freshly frozen lakes.

It was the totality of sound that overwhelmed me. At times it sounded like an army marching through a January swamp. I tried to capture some video and audio with my phone, which caught some of the sound, but not well enough for me to call representative of what I was hearing.

This sound can only happen in the regression of spring. As I’ve written before, I think of winter as an empire seizing a continent. It does not fall all at once, but weakens and falters with time. 

Winter may snatch away the promise of a beautiful spring day, but its fate is sealed. Winter can’t put all that water back in the river. It can’t put the snow back in the woods. Winter is alive, but it knows what is happening to it. 

A cold morning may still freeze water and flesh, but by noon the sun had its say. This was not the sound of winter’s return, but an elegy to its memory.



Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.