1.29.2012

DANGER! THIN ICE!


Last week, after one pitiful day of cold, I was racing through Central Park to get to a meeting. Naturally, because I was very nearly late, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Weird ice on the large reflecting pool next to the Alice in Wonderland statue.

Well, everyone knows there are certain categories of beauty to which you cannot say, hold still, I'll be right back. Sunsets, sunrises, rainbows, clouds, baby smiles...They wait for no woman. They vanish. So I whipped out my cell phone and started snapping pictures.


As I looked at the strange and unusual patterns in the melting ice, associations raced through my mind. The cracks look exactly like trees, growing up out of our concrete borders. Those black trees silhouetted against the white ice reminded me of one of my favorite fabric patterns from Marimekko, the Finnish design company.

The round pits made the ice look like a lunar landscape, and I wondered, not for the first time, what it was about certain Male Politicians that made them love science when it comes to Big Rockets and Moon Towns, but not love science--not even believe in science--when it comes to the consequences of burning all that dirty fuel in Big Cars and spewing it out of Big Smokestacks. Aww, come on, what's the fun in that?


Those ice trees interlace so beautifully with the shadows of real, solid trees behind me; Central Park is full of handsome specimens, but we've lost a huge number of them in the last few years, because of inexplicably vicious, unprecedented wind and rain storms. Did I say inexplicable? Scientists are connecting the surges of unpredictably wild, severe storms to global warming. Meanwhile, my friend Ronnie in upstate New York tells me that the fancy local ski supply shop is having an enormous sale on winter gear--"We're having a global warming sale!" the proprietor told her. We're all talking about what an unusually mild winter we are having, that Arctic air trapped up in Canada.


Global warming--and the round shapes bubbling up out of the ice--made me think of the methane beginning to escape from the permafrost. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas--makes carbon pollution look dainty by comparison. Standing there in front of the ice, gazing into its patterns, I began to feel as though I were in front of a giant bowl of tea, reading meaning into the pattern of leaves left draining at the bottom.

On my way to midtown, I passed banks of hellebore, blooming profusely, their sleepy pink heads nodding shyly. Daffodils were pushing far up out of the ground. Wait, I wanted to say, please, wait just a little longer. It is still winter. It is too soon for you to be here. And later I read about what any gardener worth her salt could have told you: the USDA maps that display growing zones have had to be redrawn to keep up with the inexorable march northward of warmer winters and hotter summers.


Every time I took my little guys ice-skating on a pond, I tested the ice carefully, just as my dad had done for me when I was a child. I edged gingerly on to the pond, slowly shifted my weight off land and onto my feet, waiting to see if the ice held, listening for those deep, dull groaning cracks. Only when I knew it was safe did I let go of those trusting little mittened hands and push the guys off on their blades.

Today there is a sign at the top of the boat ramp--Danger! Thin Ice!

Are we paying attention? We ignore the signs at our peril. Those tiny hands still trust us, though. 

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