Cold lens, imaginal disc

Hello there readers. How have you fared this winter? Here on this peninsula we feel it beginning to ebb, and all the things left to do and feel come rushing. A season is fleeting — go do and feel those things!

Back at the outset of winter, while studying a map of a nearby lake, a fascinating image came to me. I saw the lake from high up in late winter, frozen, and at the center-point of that disc of ice stood a tiny vertical figure, as if the thin carbon spindle of a huge felsic wheel. I imagined myself standing there at the exact center of the lake, and the image was appealing; I planned my passage for when the surface had frozen.

On the map I traced the circular shore and crossed it with three diameters to find their point of intersection. I noted the profile of the moraine surrounding the basin and found distinctive curves opposite one another. Out on the ice with compass in hand, I imagined, I would walk until the curves aligned, and there would be the center of the disc. I waited for the water to freeze.

The weather was mild and only a thin sheet of ice formed over the shallows, too thin to bear much weight. But one night a heavy mass of cold air came and settled into the basin, flowing to cover the water and lap at the shoulders of the moraine. It stayed for a few weeks, and the lake froze slowly from the shore toward the center until the disc finally formed, complete, suspended there between the mass of air and lens of water.

One afternoon under a startlingly clear sky I ventured onto the ice, which over the shallows felt thick and trustworthy. I had in my pocket a pebble chosen from the mouth of a spring at the shore, and held in my mind the curves of the moraine that would lead me to the center. I walked over the shallows, above the gravelly bottom spiraled with snails, to where the lakebed drops and in summer I paddle hands and feet to stay afloat. The ice was sound, so I continued out to a line where the surface changed. On the near side, the ice was opaque and studded with big canted slabs that had frozen together to form a thick shelf; but further out the ice was smooth and transparent, clear of any bubbles or fissures that might hint at its thickness. I stepped lightly over the line and looked: just deep black water beneath clear ice. Would it hold my weight if I kept going? Or somewhere out there toward the center would the ice give way? The cold lens beneath has a near-infinite capacity to incorporate heat.

I stepped back over the line and sat, closing my eyes against the strong sun. In the imagination I walked on, two times again the distance I’d come from shore, until the curves of the moraine aligned and I felt myself at the center of the disc, now a great gyroscopic bio-mineral instrument, held for a season in strange floating compression. I brought the pebble warm from my pocket and placed it on the ice. Come spring, when the disc sublimates into lifting air and melts into the warming lens, the pebble will sink, fluttering through those fathoms of dark water to the bottom.

A close-up black and white photograph of leatherleaf stems and leaves. Most of the image is out of focus, but two stems are clear: one vertical and one horizontal. The leaves are oval, with a finely crystalline surface.

Yes, a season is fleeting. There’s so much I yearn for here at the end of winter. One more dense snowfall, low light through uplifted ice, the gaze of snowy owl. What about you?

As I mentioned a few letters back, Polylith will expand this year into paper form: I’ll be making and sending four volumes of a QUARTERLY ZINE starting in May and running through next February. I still have some details to settle, but there will definitely be a few subscription tiers to choose from — one of which is gift-based. Subscriptions will open in the next month, and if you’d like to hear as soon as they do, just send me a note. I’m excited about the possibilities!

Oh, and don’t worry, the email newsletter isn’t going anywhere. These letters will likely be shorter and lighter, but I so enjoy the rhythm of sending them each month. If you enjoy the emails too, consider sharing them with a kindred reader. With that, cycle two of Polylith is complete.

Leelanau Peninsula
Full moon, February 2021