Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ice: Missoula 1989

As best I recall, the rivers and streams around Missoula didn't ice over. When Fru and I lived in Stevensville, the Bitterroot River would get cold-looking and foggy, but did not freeze. Nor did the Blackfoot. Certainly the Clark Fork--which is a sizable river for the area--didn't turn to ice. Mostly you heard about ice on the roads: Black Ice.
In Montana, Fru and I learned, they didn't salt the roads. Sometimes they didn't even plow them. One winter we had a very heavy snow and the city--Missoula--finally brought out the plows and dumped the snow into mountains in parking lots and on corners. Actually, it's kind of interesting that they didn't get all worked up about winter and snow: either you drove on it or through it or around it or you didn't. It was just snow. They did, however, spread sand on the highways. For traction, I guess. But this was big, heavy-grit sand--pebbles almost--and so all winter it would knock around the undercarriage of your truck, track into your house or the cafes or bars, get strewn along the side of the road and stay there during the melts turning everything brown and ugly, washing into the stream, I guess. Yet salt, salt would have melted the snow but it also damages roads and vehicles and would be worse for the streams and plants. So, I guess sand was the way to go. But, salt would have melted the black ice. Black ice being the build up of snow melt, turned black from carbon and exhaust or whatever, so that you didn't really see it on the highway's surface until it was too late. Still, I never had a bad incident due to it.
But what I'm thinking of--concerning ice--was a time when Steve, Ken, Bill (MA/MN/MT Bill) and I drove up up Lolo Creek one very cold winter day just to goof around in the woods.
It was very cold and had snowed a lot, so we went up Highway 12 for a bit, pulled over and walked through the deep untrammeled snow. It was fun. Eventually we hopped down into the creek bed where the water trickled beneath a fine veneer of ice. We walked that upstream a bit and then came to a place where the water was a small falls--maybe where it had jammed up and cascades over rocks and logs--and here there was a beautiful small display of icicles. A small frozen falls. We marveled at that--the thick stalagmites (or is it stalactites?) of winter-bluewhite ice, bumpy and clear and also smooth and clear, all bunched up along the blockade in the creek, looking like the great mouth of some carnivorous frozen beast. A stunning find. But Steve--Steve who was from Massachusetts, a writer, and who was a Vegan and who considered himself to be the ultimate environmentalist, that Steve--he went up and put his boot to the work of water. Yes, he rammed his feet into the icicles, breaking and splintering them with great joy.
It was no big deal, in the scheme of things. I was displeased but also laughed at him, teased him that here he was, a nature lover, yet couldn't stop himself from finding pleasure by destroying what nature had formed. Of course, nothing was killed or injured--except a sense of purity and beauty, perhaps.

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