If you have never heard Ice Drumming, you should. It is a fascinating phenomenon that happens under certain conditions, and this morning, the conditions were right. When Sophie and I went for our walk at about 9:30 this morning it was 5 below zero. For those of you who don’t live in a northern climate and think 5 below zero is really cold, you’re right! It’s very cold. Fortunately, there wasn’t much breeze which helps. A 5 mile an hour breeze can lower the temperature you feel on your skin considerably. This is what I was wearing: thick wool socks, heavy insulated winter boots, two pairs of sweat pants, t-shirt, heavy hooded sweatshirt, full body insulated coveralls, winter coat, knitted stocking cap that I made, crocheted face and neck warmer that my wife made and heavy mitten gloves. Oh yes, and my “don’t run me over blaze orange vest” for all the texting drivers out there. Sophie went in her fur, which is sufficient for her.
We walk along the county road that I live on and the lake is on the other side of the road. And that’s when I heard it. Ice Drumming. If you have ever heard a Rock N Roll drummer doing a drum solo with rolls across tom toms, that is what it sounds like. There is about 4 to 6 inches of ice on the lake right now and with the temperature at 5 below, the thickness is increasing dramatically. If you’ve ever seen ice cubes in a tray that were frozen really hard you will see a lot of cracks through them. The ice on the lake is cracking with the low temps. My lake is 1591 acres, which is a mid to large size lake for southern Minnesota and with that much ice, it cracks a lot. If you’re standing near the shoreline the cracking sounds like sharp hits on a snare drum but further away the sound takes on deeper tones and sounds like deep tom toms and bass drums. And it’s loud enough to hear very well on a day without much wind.
It’s an amazing thing to listen to and even more fascinating to be on the ice while it’s doing it. You can feel the vibrations, like the ice is alive. This can be kind of scary to someone who’s never experienced it. Ice fishing folks tell stories all the time about their ice houses moving as the ice moves. Every once in a while you’ll hear a really loud boom, like a bomb going off. That will be a crack going all the way across the lake. You usually only notice it when the temps get below zero. If there’s a strong wind blowing it will push the edges of the cracks together and they can explode ice into the air like the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust. Again, it only happens when the temps are seriously cold. At warmer temperatures the ice is more flexible and actually bends and rolls without cracking.
I love the Winter. There’s something to be said for folks who live year after year in cold climates. We’re tough up here. Lots of changes have to be made in the way you live and do things when Winter arrives. Safety is all important. Make the wrong mistake and you can die from exposure. I carry my cell phone on me whenever I walk with Sophie. I fell three time on ice last year without serious injury but I was lucky. People break bones all the time from falls because of ice. So I recommend finding a lake on a seriously cold day and listen for the drumming. It’s something you won’t soon forget.