Learning to Live with Cracks in the Ice


It was cold in the house but sunny outside so the kiddo and I decided to make a run for it. If things went according to plan we’d have a midday adventure and maybe catch a fish. If things went awry, well, at least the house would feel warmer when we returned.

The steps on the southside of the house were crusted in days old snow that had still never seen the sun. The trees branches hung low from the brittle cold and waves of smoke from neighbors’ chimneys hung in the air like the everlasting moment between hope and disappointment.

As we began to make our way down the lane we were suddenly stopped short when a pair of hawks engaged in a display of avian aerial combat directly overhead. First the smaller hawk swooped in and landed on a prime evergreen branch that overhung the gopherhole pasture. Then, it’s much larger counterpart hit the turbo button from up on high and darted straight from the heavens toward that exposed outpost.

Just before those two birds had their worlds collide the smaller of the two abandoned its perch and set forth on an arrow route toward the limitless bluebird skies. In the absence of thermal vapors the birds began to circle on the razor ice wind currents that colluded to keep the world bogged down by the cold. They flapped their boomerang wings more often than usual for a sunny day as they chased one another round and round the great expanse overhead until their maneuvers took on the casual rhythm of old dance partners.

My Bub and I just stood and stared while the old farm roosters, usually so brazen and cocksure, ducked their red combed heads and made a beeline for the henhouse

As the hawks circled from the ring of tall trees along the river and back over the fallow pastures below song birds chirped carefree from the gnarled limbs of old fruit trees in the orchard.

Soon though, a new roar tore through the tranquil soundscape of winter’s coldest day. It was a twin prop plane and it waggled its wings in acknowledgement as my son excitedly signaled his enthusiasm through a telltale series of arm flapping gesticulations.

Once it had cleared the horizon we noticed that the plane’s presence had chased the hawks from their patch of sky so we continued cutting our path toward the river. As the towering trees grew taller to our perception another bird of prey suddenly popped into view. And then another, and another.

This time it was a trio of bald eagles who were scouting for fish from the strip bare tip of a snag fir along the river’s high water mark. Two of the raptors used their gift of flight to peer through the ripples below in gridwork surveillance while the elder-statesbird held a regal portrait pose atop the loftiest bough of that standing-dead tree.

As we approached the river’s edge the slow melt of the trail shifted into a solid sheet of ice along the shaded shore. Sand turned slick and old boot prints glistened with a spackle of intricate crystals where mud had once reigned.

With no rain and little runoff to sully the streams the river ran low and clear like the czar’s last pull of potato vodka. Hoping to look down on the river like the birds of prey that filled the skies I trudged to the top of a sandy dune along the shore to see what I could see.

A broken bottle here. A beer can there. An abandoned fire ring and the charred and jagged remnants of refuse that proved impervious to the rip of the flames. But no fish appeared in that instant.

With my back turned little Bub set out doing what is always his first order of business at the river — Finding rocks and hucking them in the river.

I watched as he inched to the shoreline and felt reassured when he stopped well short of the water to let the stones fly. But, as I turned my gaze back to the river I heard the crack of the ice and the telltale thump of a toddler going boom.

Spinning around again to investigate I saw the source of the commotion lying prone and staring silently into the blue abyss above.

An iced over slick of backwater had enticed my son to shuffle across so that he could take to the top of the hill with me. Instead, his feet went out from underneath and his diaper clad rump went crashing through the frozen veneer into the brackish seep water below.

Although his backside was wet and his hands muddy he did not cry. He simply seemed confused, as if he were asking himself, “How did I get here?”

Still, I knew we had reached the turning point in our adventure. We’d been free for awhile but it was time to head back to the confines of home.

We may not have had any fish to show but the wood stove crackled a little warmer upon our return. As we munched our lunch the only thing that we had left to wish for was the ability to fly so we could leave behind the troubles at our feet.



Following a fire that ravaged much of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area near Rochester in 2017 the WDFW is seeking public input on how to best rehabilitate those areas for future uses. On Feb. 13 the WDFW will host a public meeting in Rochester in order to figure out the best path forward for those South Sound prairies that cover about 3,592 acres between Thurston and Grays Harbor counties.

“We want to hear from the public about how people use this area as well as what recreation and natural resource values are important to them,” said Darric Lowery, wildlife area manager for the WDFW, in a press release.

The WDFW is currently drafting a plan that would direct the next ten years of projects and management at the wildlife areas. The public meeting will include a history of the area, a look at the planning process, and a time for public comments.

Information on the six units of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area are available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/scatter_creek/. The Scatter Creek workshop will be held from 6-8:30 p.m. next Wednesday at Swede Hall in Rochester, located at 18543 Albany St.


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