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From a distance, the whole of the lake appears to be just another layer of snow on the Northern ground.
After loading up with outdoor gear—lined coat and hat, mittens and ski pants that bunch up the bottom of your long-johns—you trudge outside and realize, as you descend from the hill, that the expanse is truly frozen water.
First emotions are that of terror.
No amount of assurance will ease the fears you have about meeting a watery grave in the center of the lake. Water, chilled to the temperature of knives, awaits you below what doesn’t at first seem to be a firm surface.
“Its 4 feet thick, don’t worry—it’s impossible to fall through”. You are promised. It’s difficult to believe.
What looked smooth and straightforward from a distance is actually patchy and rough, carved with petrified boot prints and snowmobile tracks. What is exposed of the smooth ice is slick and clear, like solid gelatin. Small pockets of softer slush—or even water—are startlingly visible when glancing down between cautious steps and meditative glances at the surrounding scenery.
While the experience is unnerving, the beauty of the sleeping, leafless forest lining the shores is breathtaking; almost calming enough to risk walking out on the lake in the first place.
The sky, seemingly created by the brushstrokes of a watercolor painter, hangs pale and lucid above. When the footsteps cease and the birds don’t call, the world is perfectly silent. One feels neatly fit into the frigid air; just another part of a diverse landscape, given the pleasure to behold what only the lack of warmth can sculpt—and can only sculpt here, in this Northern wood.
Everything is white—dead in the best way. The forest is a sleeping corpse; its hands are the trees that quietly continue to divide the wild from civilization until the snow melts and green is allowed to grow again. The ground, usually so actively facilitating life, now rests.
The beast of winter is only disturbed by the footprints of curious visitors. Badges of boots in the snow are proof that nature is still appreciated during this time of year; they, the past visitors of the lake, laid out a map in footprints, then left. They proved how the ice below your feet was safe.
They breathed the air.
When you breathe in the winter air like they did, letting your lungs steal a little gulp of the cold for yourself, you leave behind a little warmth in its place. Lung-filtered bursts of steam pour from your nostrils and melt into the bright air.
It’s your little contribution to the forest, saying “I was here, I saw the forest, I braved the ice and I loved every minute of it”
Despite the cold you feel when you walk across that lake, thoughts of summer become redundant. Snow drifts take the place of the bugs and the butterflies. Tracks in the ice replace the waves and the sand.
Standing out on the sleeping lake, listening to the ice crack, punctuating the silence, your fear is the only thing melting because you know you’ll be alright. You’re too calm to be afraid of dying now.
You are alive in a dead forest that awaits rebirth under layers of foot-printed ice. It sleeps and waits; you breathe it’s air.