Many rural towns, like our nearby Idaho neighbor of McCall, have ice carnivals, parades, and sculpturing contests, each winter.  It is indeed amazing to see what human artists can create, but they never can quite top that which nature carves out of the cold.  My wife and I often get out to attend the parade that flows through our backyard, down the Salmon Canyon.   Various conditions of winter weather and fluctuating flows of the river reveal a wide diversity of natural creations.

Like the wood carver who sees the form of  animals in a log, or ice sculpturers who see entities in ice, then helps them escape and brings them into reality with his/her  craftmenship, the river releases shapes, forms, and textures with its handywork, too.  It is like watching a magic show, as normal  things get changed into something else, by natural sleight-of-hand trickery not readily seen by the  eye. Suddenly the “real” can paradoxically become morphed into the “unreal.”

Do you see the frozen eagle? Barb first pointed this one out to me.

While there are different shows going on all the time, my favorites are anchor ice, travertine-like frozen pools, beautiful rossettes, and  the enchantment of melifluous melodies that is sometimes the rivers characteristically rare tune. The ones that occur on our Salmon River are quite grand, due to the magnitude of the size and scope of the river and landscape itself. The river is what we call pool and drop. The geology is such, that declivity and side canyon debrie flows have produced natural “damming effects,” to the course of the river. A long slow stretch behind rock piles which pool the water can be over 75 feet deep on the Salmon River.  These same rock piles, or” debrie fields,” is what cuases the rapids to occur.  Just above many of them are shallow “tailouts,” which are favorite places to pull plugs for steelhead. But, also is the only areas where the river gets shallow enough to enable “anchor ice,” to form.

Anchor ice is caused by  current  that is too fast to freeze on the surface, in areas not deep enough to prevent it from freezing on the rivers substrate.  Meanwhile, the deeper pools freeze over on top, and offer enough depth  that anchor ice does not form on the bottom.  The deeper water acts sort of like a layer of insolation from the cold.

Other interesting fromations form  in the larger rapids, when it gets cold enough to actually start freezing even these fastest  portions of the river.  As current crashes into boulders that are exposed above the waters surface,  they begin to slowly freeze againt the rock until they build around and over them. The resulting mounds in some rapids take on the form of a small village of igloos. Some form pools between them or as shelves build up from the damming effect of numerous, closely spaces rocks.  Often these areas take on the appearance of travertine-like pools like those seen at Havasu in the Grand Canyon. Instead of calcium carbonate, the rim around each pool is cause by ice.

Each winter is different, some seasons having more than one period of break-up, as the process of freezing and thawing may repeat itself. But it is during these time frames when the beautiful ice “rosettes” are formed.  They ususal occur in the sections of river where there are large re-circulating eddies. The circularity  of the motion, during the melting process, cause various sized islands, roundish  in shape,  to calve off. They continue to spin in the eddy, until other chunks of ice coming down river bump into them. Then more ice is added and they get bigger, or they get cast into the main current, float downriver, and break up as they crash into various path-laden obstacles.

Not only does winters-hand create the bewildering and bizarre visual treats, but also interesting, and unusual sounds as well. I have heard ice when it cracks,  that  sounded like a rifle shot.  Sometimes the ice flows moan, sometimes they sound like a person taking a bite out of a snow cone. Other times the ice flowage  cathunks, thuds, crackles, and pops. But one time, a sound I heard the ice make was one of the rarest I have ever encountered in all of my years on the river during winter.


I was steelhead fishing during break-up, when most of the ice was gone, except for some randomly occuring shelf ice. But it was still cold, below freezing, and  where I was fishing had an unusual  matrix of natural phenomena that built up and found vortex nearby me.  Small broken pieces of ice had piled up against the shoreline ice,  which also surrounded a bed of spindly willows. A slight breeze was blowing at different intensities and the  combination made a weird sound as pretty as has ever met my ear. It sounded like there was a consortium, in the hundreds, of micro sized dwarfs that had gathered their wind chimes at rivers edge to give an orchestrated concert. Each playing a slightly different tuned wind chime, but all blended together  into such a  heavenly sound (only fantasy dwarfs could play),  that it cast a magical spell over me that I will never forget.  So rare was it, that I have never heard that sound again, though I visit the winter river very often, and have so for many years now.

Did I forget to mention that a solo white swan flew over my boat during the same time the dwarfs were in deep ecstactic rhapsody?
No. Not  drug induced. These stimulants are not necessary to hear hear things and see things. Just an open mind and ear. A healthy imagination also helps.

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