Iced Over

The weather over the past few weeks has given Schiller Park a different–and decidedly icier–look. It’s pretty, in a desolate, black-and-white photography kind of way, but difficult to enjoy without some serious risk.

The big snowfall that we experienced recently has not left us, and temperatures have for the most part stayed very cold. But, we’ve had a few days of sunshine since the big storm. The sunshine has melted some, but by no means all, of the accumulated snow, and overnight the frigid temperatures have caused the melted snow to refreeze. Repeat the process for a few days, and you’ll end up with a landscape that looks like what you see in these photos.

Most of the interior of the park is completely encased in a coating of ice that is now inches thick. When I walked by yesterday morning, on a cloudy day, the dim sunlight filtering through the overcast sky gave the ice a kind of evil, frosty gleam that screamed “winter.” Many of the pathways, like the entrance to the park at the end of Third Street, above, and the walk past the gardens to the Schiller statue, below, are fully ice-bound. Only the most foolhardy–or someone equipped with spiked footwear–would venture onto these bumpy, treacherous surfaces. I didn’t see anyone who was willing to risk a hip-busting fall.

As a result of the conditions, the park is a very peaceful, quiet place. The few pedestrians, like me, tend to stick to the cleared streets surrounding the park, figuring that walking among the parked cars and veering around the icy patches on the roads is a wiser course. Only the dog walkers venture into the interior, walking with tiny, penguin-like steps over the ice and urging their canine companions to be quick about their business so they can quickly return to less treacherous footing.

A Winter Etching

Russell and Betty are back up in Stonington. Winter comes early up there.

Stonington is located on the far eastern edge of the Eastern Time Zone, so the sun sets much earlier there than it does in Columbus, which is on the western edge of the same time zone. Once Daylight Savings Time ends, total darkness comes to Stonington during the afternoon hours. For example, my weather app says the sun will set over Stonington at 3:56 p.m. today, whereas the sunset in Columbus won’t come until more than an hour later, at 5:06 p.m. During the winter months the sun’s daily path through the sky also nudges closer to the horizon, which makes for longer shadows and less direct overhead sunlight.

That means conditions are just about perfect for the natural ice art shown in the picture above, which Russell took after he arrived. That’s a photograph of ice covering some of the rocks in our down yard. Accumulated rainwater froze over, and then the water under the ice layer evaporated while the ice remained, unmelted by direct sunlight. The result looks like an etched, frosted pane of glass that you might see in a doorway during the Victorian era.

If I recall my childhood winters accurately, that ice is just waiting for a bundled up kid in a stocking cap to step through and shatter with a satisfying crunch. I kind of wish I was there to do it.

No Ice Ain’t Nice

On this business jaunt I’m staying in one of those hotels where every room has a kitchenette complete with refrigerator, two burner stovetop, sink, and dishwasher.

I don’t plan on doing any cooking while I’m here. Frankly, the thought of cooking in my hotel room and smelling lingering kitchen odors, like the smell of microwaved popcorn, while I’m trying to sleep kind of disgusts me, now that I think of it. There’s a reason there’s significant physical separation between kitchen and bedrooms in most American homes, and the smell factor is one of them.

Even though I don’t plan on cooking, a refrigerator seems like a nice option. In fact, a bracing glass of ultra-cold water with lots of ice sounds pretty good this morning. But my refrigerator has no ice tray or ice maker, even though it’s got a freezer. Why not? If you’re going to put a fridge in a hotel room, it should be fully functional — and that means complete ice-making capabilities. How much can a plastic ice tray cost?

Is there some nefarious reason why the kitchenette hotels want every guest to have to walk down to the ice maker?

The Relentless March Of Ice Cube Technology

First, there were enormous blocks of ice cut from freshwater lakes, hauled away by burly men armed with huge tongs, and stored until summer in sawdust-filled icehouses, before finally being delivered to the home icebox when the iceman cometh.  Then, the invention of the electric refrigerator empowered homeowners with personal ice cube-making capability, thanks to frosty metal ice cube trays with lift bars and then twistable plastic versions.

IMG_6352Now, a new frontier in drink-chilling technology has been reached.  Finally, Americans can achieve their dream of making spherical ice cubes in the comfort of their own homes.

What’s that, you say?  Spherical ice cubes are mere frippery, and by definition cannot be called a “cube” at all?  Fine, call them “ice balls” if you must — but don’t minimize the aesthetic and practical value of having a smooth, round, blissfully chilling globes of ice floating in a properly made adult beverage.  Because icy orbs are a lot more fun than everyday ice cubes, and they have the added advantage of being far too big to chew.  And whether you are someone who loathes the sound of people crunching away on ice pellets, or you are an unreformed chomper who simply can’t resist temptation, any development that prevents ice-munching and closes that alleged window to your innermost frustrations is a good thing.

Plus, the technology is pretty cool.  The Tovolo ice sphere molds consist of a plastic cup that forms the bottom half of the sphere and a rubber insert that forms the top half.  You fill the plastic part with water, put the rubber top on — which causes excess water to fountain out of the center hole — and then place the mold into the freezer.  After a decent interval you remove the mold, twist off the rubber top, and pop out a perfectly round ball of ice.  It not only looks good, the one-at-a-time preparation method makes you feel like an ice sphere artisan as you slowly build your supply for your upcoming social event.

I am glad that I lived to see the human race reach this height, but I wonder:  What’s next for ice cube technology?  Are there any remaining ice-making Everests to be climbed?

Back To The Ice Age

20140807-071831-26311110.jpgOur cottage at Rockywold-Deephaven Family Camp — like every other cottage here — lacks a refrigerator.

Instead of the large, humming, ice-making and food-chilling machine found in all of our kitchens, we have an old-fashioned, noiseless icebox. It’s a green wooden piece of furniture with a snug, metal-lined compartment where blocks of ice are placed. The ice is used strictly for cooling, not consumption. The cold radiating from the ice and metal keeps the other contents of the icebox, like Kish’s bottle of diet root beer, chilled.

The ice is made with lake water and comes from the Deephaven Ice House. Every morning male staffers use huge metal tongs to haul blocks of ice out of the ice house and put it in green wheelbarrows, then they hustle from cottage to cottage to replenish the ice in each icebox. It looks like quite a workout. Our iceman who cometh is named Peter, a pleasant young man from the Czech Republic who has worked at the camp for three summers and is looking forward to a fourth next year.

The dining room at Rockywold-Deephaven provides three meals a day, so you really don’t need a big, bulky refrigerator clogging up your cottage space or making noise that interferes with enjoyment of the morning solitude — and it’s kind of nice to live in an appliance-free zone for a while. It’s one of the distinctive touches of this remarkable and very enjoyable place.


Shining Path

IMG_5513It’s rare for the ground to be snow-covered in central Ohio over Thanksgiving; typically the temperature is in the 40s or low 50s, well-suited to a turkey bowl pickup football game or a turkey trot 5K.  This year, however, the snow came early and the temperatures are cold.  Our icy walking path is treacherous but shimmering in the bright morning sunshine.

The Icemaker Goeth

The ice maker in our refrigerator is unquestionably the most fickle appliance in the Webner household.

IMG_3047Its task is straightforward:  chilled water flows into molds and freezes into ice, gears turn and the ice cubes are dumped into a bin, and when you hit the ice button a metal coil turns and pushes the ice cubes down the chute into your waiting glass.  And, most of the time, the ice maker happily performs its humble task without incident.  But deep within its metal gearbox beats a malevolent heart.  The ice maker somehow senses when you must have ice — I mean, really need it, because you are hosting a cocktail party, or have to fill a big cooler for a tailgate party, or need ice to load up a chilled, anti-swelling medical device — and suddenly, it inexplicably stops working.  The ice maker then stoutly resists your mystified attempts to get it working again, scoffing at your feeble taps on its side or your fiddling with the wire ice level detector.

So, you show up at the neighborhood convenience store at odd hours, in dress not suited to the neighborhood convenience store, and buy two big bags of ice for $8.98.  $8.98!  For cubes of frozen water in a cheap plastic sack!  And the fat, sloppy, stoned guy behind the register looks at you like you are crazy for buying ice, or  are pathetic because you are too mechanically inept to fix a simple ice maker.  And then you live without ice for a time, thinking that you don’t really need ice . . . but after a steady diet of lukewarm soda you relent, call the repairman, and he shows up, takes a quick look, makes some furtive internal adjustment, then charges you $129.00 for a service call.

And the ice maker chuckles an evil chuckle.

Ice On The Pathway

It rained all day on Thanksgiving — putting in a serious crimp in traditional backyard football games throughout the Columbus area — and then about midnight a cold strong front moved in.  When Penny and I took our walk this morning, we encountered falling temperatures and a frigid west wind.  We also made our first sighting of patches of ice on the sidewalk.

There is a delicate beauty to newly formed ice.  Brittle shards of ice lance across the surface of the freezing water, pinning stray leaves underneath.  The surface quickly becomes a crazy quilt of etched patterns that glint in the morning sunlight and crack open with a satisfying crunch.

It’s important to appreciate the beauty of ice upon its first appearance.  I will be cursing its presence soon enough.