Beauty Under the Ice…

The filigreed underside of a paper-thin ice sheet, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Thin ice layer forms over deep footprint in slushy snow in late winter, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I was recently walking along the trail by the river a day after heavy rains had drenched the knee-high snow on the ground. When I walked through it, I felt like I was walking through a slushy. The snow was saturated with water. The rain and warm temperature had also created large green-brown-tinged meltwaters in low areas by the trail.

Snow meltwaters in Kawarthas in late winter, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

The next day, the temperature had plummeted and the sublimated snow had shrunk down below a thin glassy layer of ice perched above it, leaving a cavity of cold frigid air. This is the kind of ice that, when you step on it, shatters into many glassy shards in a loud chorus of tinkling. Because there was a significant space between the thin glassy ice layer and the snow that had shrunk beneath it, I knew what I would find; I’d seen it before: ice trees!

Ice ‘tree’ and ice ‘fern’ formations grow on the underside of a paper-thin ice sheet over a snow bank, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Filigreed ice ‘tree’ forms on the underside of this paper-thin ice layer; the ‘top’ of the ‘tree’ normally points downwards (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Sure enough, when I picked up a thin brittle ice shard that was smooth like an ice rink on top, and turned it over to see the underside, what I revealed was spectacular: a hidden rough topography of ice formations. Ice flowers, ice ferns, and gnarly ice trees had grown from the thin ice sheet down toward the ground.

Ice ‘trees’ form on the underside of a thin ice sheet over a sublimated snow bank, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Ice ‘trees’ form on underside of smooth paper-thin ice sheet over snow, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I marvelled at the beautiful ice landscape hidden beneath the burnished ice sheet above. As we walk the trail, most of us see a burnished ice sheet, smooth and shining in the sun. What we don’t see is that hidden treasure, enclosed by ice and snow; a world of beautiful miniature ice sculptures that glitter like jewels.

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

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