This cold February day in Nova Scotia, begins as a crisp -12°C, and I have just arrived at the coastal barrens, 45 min drive from my home. I discover with the current wind raging across the barrens, the temperature feels like -20°C with windchill. I don my moose hide mittens, wrap an extra layer around my head, and throw my camera gear on my back. Following the paths of deer and coyote, I begin my trek over the frozen hummocks and granite ridges to the ice pools below. Looking around, I can’t help but notice, not for the first time, how desolate and vast this postglacial landscape is, held in the firm grip of winter. It’s as raw and exposed as the biting cold with its pervasive icy fingers. This land with its stark beauty, opens up under my gaze and I seek the wonders that lay hidden beneath by feet.
Meandering down over the ridges, my mind ponders what sort of ice features I might see today. My mind casually drifts over the ice terms solidified in my thoughts: frazil ice, ice gruel, sastrugi, stamukha, sklianka, flake ice, breccia, pancake ice, slush, sludge. My pace slows when I notice the granites are thickly encrusted with ice where there is runoff, frozen into cascades. I compose a few images focussing on the textures and rich earth tones refracted up through the ice. Continuing on, I skirt around a low-lying bog with windswept spruce and fir and find many clusters of frozen cranberries. I pick a few handfuls and cram them into my pockets to eat later when they thaw.
I approach the edge of a large brackish ice pool. The wind isn’t quite as unforgiving here and I can stop, look and think. This cold brings a clarity of mind allowing me to take everything in as images, and process them with an unconscious precision into what I know and perceive. Today’s ice is sikuaq and qinu, Inuktitut words for ‘skim of ice' and 'slushy ice close to the shore.’ I check to see where the sun is and note that I have about an hour before it is too high and harsh, to be useful in giving a depth and colour to ice features. Looking down and across the pool, my eyes scan the edges of upwellings, for patterns in texture, light and frozen air bubbles. I see an area of frozen bubbles with yellow/orange hues of decaying seaweed beneath. I can manoeuvre myself so that I partially block the glare, but still allow enough light for depth in the bubbles. I take a few images from different angles and notice the leg of a tripod reflected in the bubbles. I leave it - it looks like cat’s eyes!
Further along the pool, the qinu ice has more structure and a wonderful light coming back through the slushy texture. It has a structural beauty that resembles shards of bone knitting themselves back together. This macro view of ice echoes the orderly arrangement of molecules at the micro scale, a perpetual flow between liquid and solid.
I remain here for some time exploring around the pool and taking in all its features. I am lucky, my feet are still dry and the ground around me has remained solid. A mink scurries past me with prey in its mouth and in a hurry to get back to the shelter of its den. The sun is rising and I can feel the subtle warmth pressing on my back. It is time to go and I must find my way over rock and scrub, back to the grind of daily life.
Each time I come here, I feel like I unearth something beautiful, something new to me. The ephemeral nature of ice and its processes mirrors mere moments frozen in time.
This frozen land speaks to me, for it has shaped my life and experiences and given me a sense of place. It is a place of extremes with hidden secrets and stories to tell of courage, strength, and perseverance. This is a wild cold place where it is easy to lose myself in the silence of noticing and it can feel like my own small patch in the universe.