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Breaking Ice

Breaking the Ice on the Pond


      December is a month of transition. The colorful leaves of autumn are now gone from the trees and have blown into ditches and other low spots. The snow and ice have arrived or are nearby just down the seasonal path. This year the cold has arrived with great fervor, and it is intense.
    I got home from work the other day just as the sun was setting. The cold days of the past week have painted a stark winter scene of leafless trees, ice covered ponds and frozen streams. In the east, the waning moon stood out against the turquoise sky of twilight. Along the western expanse, the last vestiges of sunlight were slipping into darkness just below the barren trees of the woodlot beyond the pasture. In the dimming sky I could see the peach and purple lines of fading colors approaching the horizon. The air temperature had not at any time risen above single digits on that day and was cold in my nose and against my ears, while my exposed skin felt as if stabbed by countless tiny needles.
          I picked up my pace as I walked to the barn and slid open the big doors just far enough to gain entry. The heaving of the frozen ground under the barn door shortened the distance the door would slide and limited my access. Inside the door I reached for the familiar switch that illuminates the interior of my darkened tool shed with the yellow tinged light bulbs. Once the lights shattered the darkness, I walked to the place where I keep the antique icebreaker that is rarely used except for such a day. 
          The ancient ice breaker is actually a long piece of historic Chestnut heartwood formed into a 3 x 3 handle with a roughly welded iron point attached to one end. The iron point on the twenty-pound tool will break or cut the ice.  I found the tool many years ago in our ancient tobacco barn. where it had been resting in an unexplored corner for countless years. At seven feet long, the tool was heavy as I lifted it to rest against my right shoulder and carried it out the barn door. 
          As soon as ear tag number 147 saw me, the black heifer began to bellow her demand for sweet feed on this chilly night. Sweet feed is a molasses and grain mixture that provides a sweet protein-based pellet that my cows have come to love and expect whenever they see me in the field. I walked to the pasture gate and lifted the chain from the hook that holds it secure. 
          As I walked across the pasture, I heard the crunch, crunch, crunch of my feet on the frozen ground. I heard number 147 again.  She seems to be the spokesperson for the rest of our beef cattle herd. With her bellow the rest of the herd begin to sound off their displeasure and hunger toward me as I walked the 200 yards to the edge of the icy farm pond. The day before, the pond was largely open water, but now most of the water was sealed over with a layer of ice one-half to three-quarters of an inch thick. 
           I lifted the heavy tool from my shoulder, and slammed the metal end of the wedge into the ice with all my might. At first nothing happened, so I raised the pole and struck again. This time a small chunk of ice broke loose and muddy water bubbled up through the fracture in the ice. I swung the tool against the now broken ice, and soon more chunks began to give way, increasing the opening in the ice. I systematically began to expand the opening in the brownish ice until I had created a hole of maybe 4 to 5 feet in length and 2 feet in width.
         The slamming of the pole into the ice caused a growing feeling of  fatigue in me, so I stopped for a moment and lowered the icebreaker to the ground. I turned around and looked behind me. There stood number 147 and all her buddies staring at me. I suppose they were wondering what in the world I was doing with their watering hole, so I nodded to the girls and said, “Here’s your water for the evening. 
           As I began to walk back toward the pasture gate, I heard the cows following me, then some began running ahead of me as we all headed for the loading pen where their feed trough is located. Once inside the loading pen, they called out their evening song in unison. It is that call for sweet feed and shelled corn to supplement their diet of last summer’s hay. With only a slight hesitation, I walked into the loading pen and began pouring out scoops of sweet feed and corn into the trough for the cows to have their last meal before dark. After doling out their ration, I left the corral and began to walk back toward the barn with the antique icebreaker.  Behind me I could hear the girls chomping down on the feed that I had given them. 
          My thoughts now turned to how cold it was and how glad I would be to return to my warm home not many steps away.  I will repeat this routine until such time as the temperature moderates and the ice on the pond gives way to open water. I hope it will not be too long before the ice melts. For the time being, the icebreaker and I will remain close friends.