NOVEMBER 26, 2010 2:03PM

I Heard The Ice Sing

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      It's late winter, a few months before I am to retire, and we're about to go for a walk along the still-frozen shoreline of Lake Erie. The pack ice has retreated, but there are overlapping thin plates, perhaps a quarter of an inch thick and a couple of feet wide, that we can see nudging up to land.

      “Listen,” says The Redhead. “Do you hear it?”

     I do, and even through the tinnitus, it's a mystical sound -- high, trilling, almost keening – and I'm mesmerised by something I've only ever read about.

     I hear the ice singing....


     My grandfather came to Canada before the First World War, started working as a mechanic for a gold mine owner and wound up running the entire operation, until the ore petered out in the early 30s.

     As far as I know, he only went back to England once, for his brother's wedding. It was there he met the bride's red-haired sister, an early registered nurse, whom he persuaded to give up what would have been a comfortable middleclass life in London for the wilds of Northern Ontario.

     And I guess that's what I want to talk about: a family inheritance, of sorts (besides the obvious predilection for redheads).

     The afternoon we took that walk, I was feeling about as low as I would feel until the day I could leave the newsroom for good. Although I was looking forward to – could hardly wait for – that moment, something was also ending. I would no longer wear the mantle of “newspaperman” as I had for 40 years. 

     We were hoping that the open air, the lake, the trees, would again work their magic, lighten the mood, as these treks had many times since the boss stuck me back on the desk the previous fall.

     Over those months, I often thought of my parents and grandparents – three of them British-born, the fourth the descendant of a coffin-ship survivor – and what they overcame to thrive in this forbidding country just after the turn of the last century.

     Because overcome they did. After the mine closed, my grandfather opened a hardware store, only to see it founder in the Great Depression. He then took his auto-didact skills to a huge power-generating utility, where he designed transformers and other electrical devices into his 70s.

     My other grandfather, a Great War veteran, worked in a foundry until he was 70, scarcely ever missing a day, even when they tried to force him out by giving him the worst jobs in the place.

     My parents founded a company in the mid-50s, but it went under in the recession later in the decade. They worked until all the creditors were paid off, then started up again. My mother died in the 1990s, but my father continued to run the firm until he was well into his 70s. It's still going strong under my brother's stewardship, and he, too, will probably keep working for years yet.

     Here I was only 60, and washed up. Done. Couldn't hack it any more. Career dead-ended more than a decade before, I was dismissed as “Mr. Grumpy”, among other things. Perhaps not undeserved, but I was frustrated by what was going on in the job, the wrong directions, the continuing erosion of credibility, the effect on my health.

     Still ... was this what I was? A quitter? Wasn't I letting the family ethic down? That's certainly the way it felt that day as we started out; but by the time we headed back, something was changing.

     Sure, there would be other gloomy days until I came home to The Redhead for good that summer, but I was formulating a resolve that I am now carrying out.

     I volunteer – using the expertise that once netted me a healthy paycheque – for two or three organizations and even a couple of individuals. I contribute to food drives and help with public events. I co-wrote biographies of the area's war dead for the local paper. I even occasionally post something on Open Salon. I'll do those things -- and maybe more -- into my 70s, if I can.

     And I'll be listening all the while for the ice to sing again.

 

Lake Erie in Winter-1

 Lake Erie's frozen shore in mid-winter

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This started one way ... and went another.
Either way, it ended great. B, when I was forced to retire, to quit working because my body gave out, I thought I would die. Even thought for a time if I drank more than I was drinking, that would help. Yes my friend, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I loved to work and it was a big change. Now, I'm got other interests that doesn't concern my physical condition too much and I get by. You are a good person for volunteering your time for others.
"started one way ... and went another"

It's best to go with that when it happens. I've never heard the ice sing, but once while sitting on a giant chunk of red sandstone in Utah's canyonlands I heard what the earth sounds like. It's a constant, steady sound which we usually don't notice, even though it's part of us.

This comment began one way then went another. :P Sort of like our lives do. I'm glad that you write on OS; if you were still locked into the newspaper career we wouldn't have your writings here. That would suck.
Wow, you gave me serious chills. And hope. Project further, into your 80's, we need more like you.
Your spirited telling of integrity is rivaled alongside the brilliant poetics of your heart.
When I retired I had the same feeling of loss and what I was going to do now retired. This while sitting in the middle of my property in my truck. Then it hit me with a light breeze as I looked around me and I realized that this is mine and I have been missing living this, all of this wonder I had built over 35 years I never enjoyed. My work wasn't an enjoyment in reality in fact it was dangerous. I have never felt more content and happy than I am now. Everyday I come out to the middle of nowhere here and smile and am thankful that I get to actually enjoy it and my life with my family. Great post Bo. o/e R******
It is good that you are here. I had to leave work early with a body that kept going on strike. Looking back, there are so many things that I would never have accomplished if I had stayed in corporatopia hell.

Beautiful and moving. Zumapick!
Thanks, ScanMan. I found that there was life after leaving a job I thought they would have to pull me from, kicking and screaming, when I hit 65. As for the volunteering, it's little enough compared to some people, but I do what I can in this little village.

Nana, that's one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me on OS or anywhere else. And I'd love to hear the earth talk. I wonder what would happen if we really opened our senses.

Sally, I strongly doubt I'll make it to my 80s, but I'm comfortable with that. I'm glad if it gave you a frisson, though. It sure had that effect on me.

J.P. Hart, thank you. That's very generous.

O/E, you and I have many things in common (you know what I mean). I can't say that I miss what I used to do at all ... it was just letting go of it. As you said, I've never been more content and happy. Last weekend, I saw a couple of former colleagues (who are still working at the paper) while we were out planting trees in the conservation area. They showed up to help because they read a news release about it -- and they looked miserable. I didn't.
Xenon, no kidding. For four decades, I never joined anything except a motorcycle ... uh ... club. Anything else, and I could have been accused of partiality if I'd ever had to write about it. It's been incredibly liberating. And yeah ... corporatopia hell. I like that.
This happens to me all the time...I start to write one thing and end up going in a whole different direction. I have had many of the same feelings as you since I retired and I'm still dealing with a lot of them. As for the ice....I have heard it sing and it lifts my heart everytime.
Overcome?
"but by the time we headed back, something was changing..."
Overcame.
I know that Lake, maybe not so far to the West as you. I've never heard it sing. I'll be listening for it now. Thanks for this slice.

p.s. Despite its name Erie is my favourite lake. :)
Such a quiet piece, thank you.

There's been such a lot of noise lately, and I fear much more to come - it's a calming thing you write, from what must be a beautiful part of the world. Yellow moon on the rise down here.
I feel/ live your logic here as being at one job so long, you see changes good or bad and it changes you, and then I love that you offer hope for those of us nearing retirement that we can still have purpose and grow.
Yeah, it's a funny way for me to write, Torman. For decades, I knew the beginning and the end of a story before I started writing. Not now. I find that strangely liberating, if not exhilirating.

Scarlett, Erie is a nasty, vicious stretch of water that I wouldn't exchange for any of the other Lakes. There's more history under those waves....

Kim, we love it here. A mile from the lake, ten minutes from three conservation areas and a provincial park. We get to walk a lot, especially in winter.

LL2, that's exactly what I hoped would happen. I don't miss the job, except in the abstract -- it was all I wanted to do since I was 16 -- and I really like what I can accomplish now.
Your family sounds like my family.. and yes the ice can sing but I am petrified of ice.
Lovely post and rated with hugs
If you can hear the ice sing, you'll be able to hear many other things sing as well, whether retired or not. Have a great holiday season, Boa --both you and the Redhead.
I have heard the ice sing both figuratively and really. It was when the beautiful Mohawk River in upstate NY gave up it's icein the spring and it would crack and heave huge blocks onto the shore. I too retired from work that meant everything to me and I had to build another identity to fit my soul. I think I understand a bit of what it costs to have to do that but it truly is wonderful on the other side. rated
"This started one way ... and went another.'
like life

I don't know why it's taken me so long to come over to your blog. (there's the writing, and the title brought me here, and the picture took my breath away)
I wish I could hear the ice sing.
"Formulating a resolve that I am now carrying out"--that's the take away for me, BR. We'll always find ways we don't measure up to some external standard, I suppose, but it's the self-fashioned inner standard, pursued with fortitude and self-command, that counts most. You're doing that, and in the process making crooked paths straight. You've given me much to think about here.
Linda, ice doesn't bother me ... water is another issue altogether. I like looking at it, just not being on it or in it.

Thanks Lea, and the same to you. Like Nana implied ... if one only keeps ears and heart open.

Yep, Rosy, I was done and past done those last few months and looking forward to discovering stuff about myself I didn't know. I have, and it's been swell.

Thank you, Vanessa. I mostly fly under the radar here -- meaning I don't post very often, so I very much appreciate you coming by. It really was a thrilling afternoon. I wish I could describe the sound properly, but I can't.

Yeah, it was that family bred inner standard that was giving me the grief back then, Jerry, until I realised I didn't have to be earning a paycheque to be doing something valuable. That's when I started looking for other ways to be useful.
""This started one way ... and went another.""

That is something a working newspaper man can't allow, for obvious reasons, but it is one of the joys of 'scribblin'. The tale takes over at times and leads us down byways we'd never thought to tread.

Scribblin' is much like life that way. We set out, with such determination, only to find ourself on an unexpected path. We may, after this happens a few times, understand that as we travel this life we change and grow. We have moments when we are shocked to discover that we are not the person we were last year, or last week, or even yesterday. We are a different person.

This happens at least 6 or 8 times AFTER we reach adulthood and are unaware that the ending of puberty and the terrible teens is not the ending of our personal growth.

Many of us reach old age fighting to "keep what we've become". This is not possible. Once again a change will occur. This time we can, if we wish, have a part of choosing the direction of that change. It is so good that you have embraced and participated. Now you are truly a "Senior"....
a nice weave of at least two stories, whether it was intended originally to be that or not. paths, whether they're the kind we walk on that lead us to icy lakes or the ones that have life labels -- profession, job, marriage, love -- converge and diverge, sometimes unexpectedly. sounds like you're on pretty firm footing. i liked this piece a lot.
Love where it went, and it has me thinking of where I am as well. Best of luck as you move forward.
Necessary changes, losses and re-adjustments, middle life appears to be this way. Well done BoRedux..
My father recently retired at age 72. I wish he could read English. I think he would sympathize with your post very much. Thanks for helping me understand him.
Great post. Seattle's temperatures are so moderate that some years it doesn't even snow in the city. They ice never gets frozen enough to walk on it and hear it sing. I would like to hear at least once in my life.
fabulous photograph. I like the story. re-birth. You have heard the mermaids singing each each to each. You have a huge amount of skill and experience to offer.
This pice just rocks dear and so do you.
I have no clue as to way this is not an EP.
You covered much here Boan. I feel proud to in a sense here, get to know you.
One door closes, a better one opens wide, yup.
Keep listening.
You might hear the voice of a butterfly. I had an aunt tell me that when I was a kid. You really have to listen hard to hear one of them. Well, I have not yet. But I still got time here...
from what i read in your writings, you shifted gears; you are one hell of writer — story teller.
You sound perfectly in tune with that ice, following your inner compass.
Words of wisdom, Sky. And I agree, by the way, with pretty much all you've said, especially about change and the need for change. Now ... if I can only get rid of those "senior moments"....

Veronica, hope is what it's all about. And there's never a day goes by, it seems, out in the woods or along the lake, when we don't see something remarkable.

Femme, thanks very much. The footing isn't always firm, and the determination can be shaky, but life's worth living. Glad you liked this.

And thank you too, JD.

Rita, none of us can do what we did 20 years ago, or even 10. It's all about adjusting, as you point out.

Capitu, what a nice compliment. If it gives you an insight into your father, that's just great.

IQ, it felt like I was a quitter at the time, even though there was nothing else I could do, at least in my mind. I have some perspective on it now, which is a good thing. That's The Redhead in the photo, if it isn't obvious.

Cognitive, we lived slightly north of you in Vancouver for a couple of years. It snowed, sort of, but never enough to properly freeze things. It was ... difficult ... for us Easterners to get used to.

Glad you liked the photo, Nola. And the mermaids ... TS had the right of it, I think.

Mission, I'd like to think I'll always listen. Your aunt is a wise woman; I'd love to hear the butterflies....

That means much, coming from you, Chuck. Thank you.

Trying, Dirndl, trying. Not always easy, but still swinging for the bleachers.

Sharing a pint with the legendary Generalissimost would be a pleasure we'd both enjoy. And, yeah, in the dead of winter we hear the cracking of trees. The Redhead says the Ents are talking.
Yes, but now you can take the time to hear the ice sing. So hard to hear those magical things with the din of a workday cancelling those soul-feeding episode out.
My teaching career of almost 30 years ended with a whimper rather than a bang ten years ago. My retirement has not been an easy one and there is still a lot of responsibility and problems each day, but I wouldn't go back to the classroom for any money.

There's so much to see, do and enjoy out there given the opportunity. Today I was so looking forward to my monthly hike with a walking group only to discover a world covered in snow this morning and had to cancel. It isn't singing, but the chance and choices to do other things is always welcome.

Lovely entry indeed.
Oh, yeah, Linnnn that is soooooo true.

The Redhead's cousin said via e-mail you lot had got whacked by a snowstorm, Linda. Too bad it forced cancellation of your excursion. And I have to say, I don't miss the newsroom one bit, any more than you miss the classroom.
You've captured a lovely elegiac tone in this piece, Lee. Very nicely done.
Oh, and for some reason I'm reminded of an Auden line that was quoted in a novel I was reading last night, "And the ports have names for the sea," which turns out to be a typo for "poets". But it's still a great line, as is "I heard the ice sing."
Hey thanks, Rob. (Have I mentioned how good it is to see you on here again?) And I agree -- "ports" is away more mystical. I like that a lot. No doubt Auden would have, too.
You too, LC? I'm aghast. And certainly you can call me "Mr Grumpy" ... ya punk.
Sometimes you just have to listen to the ice! I think it's funny about the redheads.
BV, I swear that red hair thing is in my DNA.
I've been away from Michigan for longer than a care to remember, and the only thing I miss is friends and family -- you can have winter!! But good on you, mate, for volunteering and for maintaining an even keel.
I know the notion of hearing the ice sing. It's one of the great things about being around water in the winter. ...
Winter isn't exactly my favourite time of the year either, Tom, but neither is high summer. Still, we try to get out in it as much as possible. Thanks for the kind words.

And yes it is, Gwool.
it was all meant to be; because you are a wise person, and you just knew it was time for a new gig
M'oh yes, KK -- I was a tad past my "best by" date doing what I was doing. This has been much more fun.