the ice storm
it came late in the night, pouring into the small valley, flooding the already saturated air like a cold water hose left running in a heated tub.
as the sky lightened the people awakened to a vision of a landscape shellacked, clear coated in a shimmering cast. the world was imprisoned, locked into glass.
like all of nature’s most apocalyptic displays, the ice storm aspired to a union of beauty and brutality. a prismatic jacketing of the landscape that coated, cut and culled. every surface was encased in a crystalline wrap.
the ice assumed itself out of the air; it was not raining or sleeting, not precipitating at all. the glassy coatings just continued to accrue out of the fog-heavy atmosphere, as if the air wished to shed itself of all this watery weight.
the trees did not appreciate this offering. their boughs pulled earthward in a depressive droop by the calamitous freight. bushes, once trimmed and pruned into clean and pleasing shapes, were wrestled sideways, and split and pried open, their interiors exposed. the ice grew like a fabulous new skin; transparent, shining, and most of all, weighty. every leaf, berry, twig, and branch was lacquered and bejeweled. late season oak leaves, wine colored, speckled and woody, could be found laminated into mitten shaped panes of ice.
occasionally a malevolent crack resounded followed by a shiver of ice as a branch dropped with a clatter, and a tree shook off some piece of the unwanted armor. boughs sprang upward with an almost auditory gasp of relief. occasionally also, a malevolent crack resounded followed by the sound of a tree collapsing in a confused cloud of crushed glass and scattered twigs. the oaks, with their stubborn insistence on retaining their leaves late in the season suffered the most. unshed leaves accrued ice, mopped up moisture from the air, until the sparkling tonnage proved too much. limbs and branches snapped away, dropping gracelessly. clumps of leaves caged into tangles of ice shed themselves like shingles blown from a roof.
briefly, a miracle: the heavy shroud hanging so profoundly over the sun parted like a stage curtain and light, yellow and spear-like, irradiated the landscape. everything glowed, shone, glittered with icy alacrity. a breeze swept through and the trees clattered and ticked, and the sudden illumination seemed to magnify the sounds as well. the landscape was heightened; the familiar world transformed, supernatural, a spectacle. drops winked and blipped, ice formations bled themselves into new shapes. diamonds adorned every inch. trees were reduced to shifting dark cores of glossy, tentacular giants.
and just as abruptly the sky faded, the dimmer was cranked down, and a purpled heaviness settled back over the world.
we watched all morning. there was little else to do. cars were stilled, wires were down, power was unavailable. we fed logs into the stove, and listened in heightened anticipation for the next giant to drop. it was difficult to resist attributing a motive for the disaster. this is nature's way. just a bit of pruning and trim work. it's good. clear out the weak stuff, what doesn't kill you and all that. as if everything is born of intention. as if there is a plan in place.
despite the intensity, and the magnitude of the event, the other outstanding characteristic was it's brevity. by afternoon, ice was already disappearing at a steady rate. rain emanated from the trees, soggy clumps sloughed off, water flowed and circulated beneath thin casings of whitened ice. the sun returned to its proper place, sheepish, and overcompensating. a hard world softened, thickened, then swelled to bursting with wet. by the next day the ice was erased. streams were hurrying new channels through mud and grass, creeks pushed hard against their usual boundaries. tree litter lay scattered everywhere like battlefield debris.
like all of nature's most apocalyptic displays the ice storm aspired to a union of beauty and brutality. and like so many events it's brief, savage reality quickly became a dream, a mirage of the mind. memory, with all its faults and shortcomings, altered the occurence into an experience, a human sized happening. we wrestled the event into a narrative, shoehorned it into a story, mostly with ourselves at the center.
some synonyms for the word storm include gale, squall, tempest, attack. an ice storm defies those terms, largely through stillness. it was a slow motion tempest, a silent gale; it wrought havoc and splendor, debauchery and bedazzlement.