The Joys of Walking Across An Icy Field

Education has met its goals, not necessarily when it has landed you a dream job—which I think is an illusion for the vast majority of people who have slaved in the past and who are working now— but when it can intensify the sensual and intellectual pleasures of the simplest acts of life—like walking to work.

Same field as being described but from another day.

Weather-wise, we have had an erratic month of February in Montreal, with more than the usual cycles of freezing and melting. One day, after a morning of snow and an afternoon of freezing rain, the snowscape was glazed with a thick, milky ice, thick enough to support the weight of a toddler. It was cold for a few days afterwards, but subsequent rain transformed the veneer. I was reminded that with every subzero drop, the forms of snow and ice, like the size of all crystals, depend on how quickly the temperature drops and on the impurities and imperfections that seed them. During my 2 km-walk that morning, I experienced different textures and densities.  This is because sources of dust, pools of water,  their depth and amount of surface exposed to air are all variable and not every spot is equally affected by wind and footsteps.

Over two thousand five hundred footsteps that gave me an uplifting return on by body’s investment in adenosine triphosphate, ATP. (For the uninitiated, ATP is not a drug.  It is the currency of cells, the facilitator for all of our energy-requiring reactions. It’s what chloroplasts produce when photosynthesizing before creating glucose, and it is what our cells create when oxygen breaks down the metabolites of that same sugar. )

As I felt the unmonotonous sequence of pressures around my boots, each different area that I walked on created a unique sound  Since childhood, my favourite sound of that type is that of thin ice shattering above an air pocket. I was also reminded that the frictional coefficient of naturally-formed ice varies significantly. That morning no one else braved the -22 oC windchill factor. So with no one watching, I was a free 54-year old, giving myself a little run and testing to see how far I’d glide on various sections of the ice field.

The way light interacted with all the surfaces also accentuated their differences. There were sparkles from icy particles acting as tiny prisms; there were lakes of yellow-orange as the rising sun caught expanses of smooth surfaces; and other parts of the frozen field glistened with different hues. Every hue corresponded to a different frequency, suggesting a unique interaction of matter with light energy.

103_9405Another benefit of immersing myself into the walk was that it lifted the weight of the thoughts about the oncoming day. It also dissipated any of the usual worries that the condensation of water in my breath was beginning to accumulate and cool my neck-warmer. If anything, the journey was far too short. I was tempted to turn 180 degrees and repeat the walk with even more attention to detail…Oh but, wait, I said to myself. The fact that I did not indulge in an extended trek was not a wasted opportunity. After all, there was the journey home that afternoon.



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