Observing Lake Superior's Frozen Art
12/23/2009 0 °F
“I started my day with a debate. ‘Should I go out and take in the sunrise, or not.’ It's not an easy discussion to have with yourself. I decided to set up a system of rewards; a.k.a hot coffee and a muffin upon my return. Outside: cold, snow crunching, slicing wind. Protected by 1970's big green jacket, I find the atmosphere awash with an intense orange quality that sparkles magnificently on the ice. Like a 10 minute wink, the eye of the sun opens briefly, then is gone. Satisfaction. I find my rewards, and listen to Yo Yo Ma play some Bach (appropriate), and happily plunk myself in front of my cheery fire. Good morning.”
This is a typical journal entry for early winter days when I‘m in the Lake Superior region. On the one hand, I love going down to the lake for the sunrise. The cold air wakes you up immediately, I like being up and about when all the world is asleep. I enjoy hearing the soft “chuff” of the small waves against the rugged shoreline. The world is lit up by warm, low angled “painters” light. It make for a very peaceful way to start the day. The way a day should be started. The problem is, is that it’s usually so very cold. It’s hard for a body to take such abuse so early in the morning. The rewards of dynamic pictures and the beauty of dawn make it worth it for me however, as the ice layered on the shore can make a spectacular scene when paired with a fiery sunrise.
Of late, I’ve been pretty well disciplined about getting up and going out for dawn. It helps that I have a new camera to play with, and that I know that the ice formations are very beautiful. These formations are formed by strong winds which whip up the lake into a bombardment of waves smashing into the shoreline. The air temperature is below freezing, which turns the water into ice that is basted with each wave for as long as the storm lasts. It makes a smooth, slick glaze that covers everything. The branches of trees and stalks of shoreline weeds form the backbone of the interesting sculptures.
Another interesting feature of winter that occurs on Lake Superior is the sea smoke. Sea smoke is formed when super cold air moves over relatively warmer water. Sometimes, the sea smoke will last all day, or will dissipate as the day warms. Dawn and early morning is when the smoke is most intense. I went out to see the lake with it’s churning water, and rising sea smoke and found a perfect backdrop to shoot the ice formations. It was 5 degrees below zero, and I bundled up with long johns and a parka. Once I started moving around and getting into the photography, I didn’t really notice the cold.
I love the variety of the intricate shapes that are formed. It’s like looking at puffy cumulous clouds in the sky, seeing shapes and objects in the frozen ice. Some of them look like ballerinas frozen in time, others look like a city that Dr. Seuss thought up with it’s collection of frozen and connected frozen blobs. I have to be very careful when positioning myself for a picture amid the fragile ice. One errant slip could easily destroy the delicate formations.
The natural ice sculptures can be found all around Lake Superior in the winter months from Late November through March. I’ve found my favorites locations on Minnesota’s north shore. Look for strong winds coming off of the lake in the forecast, and freezing air temperatures. Then set your alarm to get up early so you’ll be ready when the sun comes up. Make sure you dress warm and wear many layers. Brew up a cup of hot coffee and sit in front of a warm fire when you get back! I think you’ll find it’s a great way to start your day.