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You know around this time of year someone’s going to ask the simple question lots of people ask at this time of year. And why is it when you ask a simple question you often get a wordy, fuzzy, unsatisfactory answer? I'm talking about a simple condition, a phrase that we've all heard and dealt with all our lives.
The other day I was at the diner in town and I asked the assembled scholars when they thought the ice would be out of the lake.
Everyone scratched their heads and said things like: That's a tough one because you never know from one year to the next when 'ice out' will occur.
All agreed it was a tough one.
Al Crimmons said the weather's been pretty cold lately and that always slows things down on the lake. He said we know it's melting some, out there in the middle and where you have moving water flowing in it’s mostly gone but trying to guess when all the ice'll be gone is always tough.
Deciding to make things even more exciting I said: So, what does the term "ice-out" mean, anyway?
The assembled scholars of our town love a question like that.
Ask enough people what ice out means and it'll soon become clear that it means different things to different people.
Strict constructionists - the kind some like to see on the Supreme Court - will insist that you can't say the ice is out until the phrase is literally true - all the ice - every single bit of it, no matter how small a piece, no matter how insignificant, ALL of it is out of the lake.
Math-types like to throw out numbers- percentages. They'll say it’s close enough to say the ice is out if roughly 90 percent of the ice has melted. Once someone throws out one number others will join in with their numbers, so you'll have the 85-percenters, the 60-percenters and the 51-percenters. Anything more than half is close enough.
Bud Seavey said he didn’t care to argue the point because the ice was out in front of his place and he was planning to put his dock in this weekend. He said the ice can do what it wants. He doesn’t care.
Bill Vazquez, a retired professor who knows much more than the rest of us combined said ‘ice out’ is all dependant on the weather of course. What you want to get the ice out is plenty of sunshine, he said.
We all nodded in agreement.
Then it was like being back in school. Professor Vasquez started lecturing and we students sat there listening.
Bill said he read on the internet that as the sun becomes more intense it melts the snow on top of the ice and once that snow cover’s gone the sunlight burns right through that ice.
The ice doesn't actually melt from the top down it melts from the bottom up, he said.
The average date of ice-out depends on the lake's size and location. Small lakes and ponds lose their ice first and up in The County lakes hold onto the ice the longest.
Since I wasn’t planning to go canoeing or swimming on that particular day - and therefore didn’t care about the ice in the lake - I left Bill’s ice-out class early to get going on what I was supposed to be doing for the past hour or so.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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