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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Booming ice and garden dreams

On these cold, cold mornings, the dog and I stop and listen to the cracking ice on the lake. By the shore, each crack is followed by a little gurgle of water. The noises from the center of the lake are deeper, more resonant.

That lake isn’t really a lake — it’s a reservoir pond, a three-mile long piece of a former river, dammed on either end. The center is deep, 35 feet I’m told, and runs like the river it still is. So it doesn’t usually freeze all the way across, and since the water level shifts, the first couple of feet from the shore often stay mushy.

That means ice fishing on this lake is limited to the bays and nearer the shores. And when the ice cracks and shifts, water backs up through the thin film covering the fishing holes, spurting like a little water fountain. The whole lake is talking in the morning, and the ducks and geese answer.

The first time I heard the winter ice cracking and singing, I was skating with my oldest friend on a lake near her home in Vermont. Periodically the ice would boom, a low sound that vibrated underfoot. It’s eerie if you’ve never heard it before.

The sound of ice, the feel of the deep cold on noses and foreheads, the news of 2 feet of lake-effect snow falling a little west of us — you’d think that would have our family Floridian running for cover. But no. Instead he was wondering if we could buy land on the Tug Hill Plateau.

I looked at him like he was crazy.

“Think about it,” my husband said. “With that kind of snow cover, there would be no problem with moisture during the growing season.”

I don’t agree that we should find a place even colder and more remote than where we already live. But, like my husband, this cold snap — along with the days that are just a tiny bit longer and brighter each day — have me thinking about gardens.

Rummaging through the freezer for vegetables every evening makes it obvious what we didn’t grow enough of last year, and we’re starting lists of what we definitely need more of. We were also too lax in putting up food last year, as is clear from looking at our pantry shelves. I did great with beets and pickles. But why are we almost out of salsa?

It’s seed catalog time, garden drawing time, time to map, chart and dream. My husband is thinking about pumpkins, fences and grains while he’s splitting wood and warming up by the fire; I’m thinking of fresh greens and broccoli while I’m snowshoeing in the woods.

In the evening we compare plans, erase and rewrite lists, trade catalogs. We have to have more peas next year, and get the tomatoes in earlier and have enough broccoli and broccoli rabe to take us through next spring. And why are we already out of onions?

Our winters are long, and I’m the only family member who really enjoys them. My son always gets sick in winter, my daughter gets blue, my husband complains that he never should have left the South.

But when the sun comes out, doubly bright because it reflects off the new snow and the white expanse of ice on the lake, everyone cheers up. The ice means good fishing for my husband; the light means spring will some day come.

And my son is feeling better, better enough to remember how much he loves skiing in the woods with me and sliding down the hills behind his buddy’s house. We’ll be skating or skiing together on the various lakes my husband fishes on, moving while he sits on his overturned bucket dreaming about turning the dark, rich earth into gardens, dreaming of pulling carrots out of the soil and hoeing around the pumpkins.

Is there a better way to enjoy the ice?

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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