Crystal Beach // A Short Story
February 26, 2014
We arrived at Crystal Beach beneath a mist, only thick enough to make the horizon a dreamy haze. We had heard about the "ice shoves" that formed on the shoreline of Lake Erie on the news, a natural wonder that garnered attention for it's rarity to form so close to shore. With several years of mild winter weather behind us, we had let ourselves forget how unrelenting the snow and below freezing temperatures could be, and even as we cursed the mountain-like piles of snow at each driveway's end, we rushed, amongst thousands of others, to gaze on something born from the same bitter cold.
Unthinking, I had put on a pair of wedge ankle boots, and my thinnest gloves - my everyday uniform for a city-suburban winter - before we left. As we climbed the incline that lead to the beach, I held fast to Patricio's arm to keep myself upright, and on the roadway next to us, vehicles burned rubber trying to grip at the slippery asphalt. When we reached the top we looked out across the endless white. Sky met earth, and earth met sky, a barely distinguishable union, and small black figures peppered the horizon.
"That's the lake," I only realized it as I said it aloud. "It's frozen." It somehow hadn't occurred to us that it would be.
We had come to see the ice shoves as if it were some stand-alone phenomenon of ice and snow, and now before us was a Great Lake - a vast extension of land - that we might have walked across to three of the fifty United States that touched it's shores. With my first step, I slipped and fell face-down, on to my elbows.
The news had spread fast - couples, youth, small children, generations of families, all scaled and spelunked the cave-like formations in droves, before it's inevitable decay. My patience wore thin through the viewfinder of my camera, to document all of what Mother Nature had created, now crowded with strangers in neon nylon apparel. Tourists alike, we made our best effort to compose a few memories, but were quick to lose patience.
We squeezed our way into one cavern, measuring eight or nine feet in height, a crowd's worth of pushy tourists in width. Light streamed in through a small opening overhead, illuminating the glassy layers of ice, the smooth ridges. I rest for a moment where the ice had carved out a seat in the wall. A few feet away, mothers and fathers frantically motioned for their offspring to pose in the most impressive alcove of the cave, digital shutters clicking rapidly.
Impatient still, and claustrophobic, we reemerged, and despite the lessening of feeling in our toes and finger tips, ventured out onto the open whiteness. Snow fell lightly like dust settling. I followed closely in the dull outlines of footprints, wondering how far others had pioneered the way forward before turning back.
My toes had numbed, my fingers ached, and I stood on Lake Erie - frozen over for the first time in close to twenty years - grasping at straws to find the significance in that moment before I was overwhelmed with cold. I lay down to make a snow angel, but barely made a mark in the shallow white.