Up until last week, I had not realized just how much I missed the sound of singing ice.
When I was a child, my mom firmly believed in the value of sending kids outdoors to play, regardless of the conditions. Much like the United States Postal Service, no sleet, snow, rain, heat, gloom of night, or other varying atmospheric conditions would prompt our mom to waver from her mandate. If we were home and not completing indoor chores or homework, we were expected to be outdoors.
At the time, I did not exactly appreciate the benefits that fresh air and exercise – even when imposed on an unwilling recipient – could offer. However, I did appreciate the opportunity to hone such skills as tree/snow fort/shelter creation, fish acquisition (using a rod – somewhat successful; trying to catch them with my hands like I saw in the old Disney movies – not so much), campfire building/outdoor cooking (foreshadowing!), sledding (bonus points for missing trees and fences; extra bonus points for getting air or steering close to a sister and causing them to wipe out when going downhill), knot tying (successful in tying knots; unsuccessful in correctly tying specific knots that could also be untied), tree climbing, swimming (bonus points for not getting any leeches; extra bonus points if your sister did), ice skating, and more.
One of those activities –ice skating – introduced me to singing ice. My sisters and I would spend countless winter hours skating on the pond or lake ice, the fresh, crisp air turning our cheeks rosy red. When we returned to the house, we often would enjoy a warm bowl of soup that our mom would make with whatever she had on hand, the heat of the soup combating the chill of our frozen toes. We would fuel up and get warm so we could go back out and skate, enjoying the sound of singing ice.
When a thick layer of ice covers the top of a lake, the blurbs of the water currents under the ice and the cracks of ice expansion create a unique and memorable sound. This hauntingly beautiful sound is referred to as singing ice. If you have not yet heard singing ice, you are missing out! Here is a link to a youtube video (not made by me), where you can hear singing ice, if you are interested: https://youtu.be/Qd-CwJa1SHE
I went on a short hike last week, on a trail that went by a small lake. As I neared the frozen lake, the murmurings of singing ice brought back childhood memories of ice skating and soup. After testing the ice to ensure that it was thick enough to hold me (a vitally important lesson for anyone who goes out on ice), I boot-skated out a distance on the lake and just stood, a huge grin on my face, soaking in the blurbs and creaking of the singing ice. That grin lasted for the rest of the hike, especially when I was close enough to the frozen lake to hear the singing ice. And, of course, I had to enjoy my mandatory bowl of hot soup when I returned home.
In the field of public health, when working on any health initiatives, we first consider the social determinants of health (SDOH), or the conditions in the individual’s environment that affect their health status. These conditions include economic stability, education and quality, healthcare access and quality, social and community context, and neighborhoods and built environments (Healthy People 2030). One of the social determinants of health, neighborhoods and built environment, frames the ability of community members who reside within those environments to access health-promoting resources. Although resources like the trail and lake I visited last week are free to the public, factors like transportation, physical mobility, employment (allowing me to afford the transportation and also dictating when I can access these resources), and living in an environment where resources like that are within driving distance, do affect access and use of those resources.
Because I am a public health nerd, I have often thought about accessibility within the Social Determinants of Health framework. We who live in New York State – and especially within the Adirondack Park – are lucky to have so many beautiful, public-accessible, outdoor experiences available. As much as I enjoy thinking about the benefit of accessibility of those resources, it is even more important, I think, to consider the factors that could make those resources prohibitive to some community members.
For extremely popular trailheads like AMR, what does the surge in popularity mean for locals? For places that require parking registration – or may require registration in the future, depending on what is decided – would the process improve access availability for locals as well as visitors to the region, or does it prohibit people whose work and family responsibilities prevent them from accessing the registration page before it fills up?
What about Leave No Trace? Does the need for awareness of why it is so important to actively protect the outdoors not only potentially put the outdoor resources at risk, but also create barriers to open conversation and enjoyment of those resources by both newcomers and old-timers alike?
And, most importantly, what a lot of us who spend much time in the outdoors would consider common sense. I would not consider going on a hike or any other outdoor exploration at any time of the year – but especially in the winter – without leaving detailed information as to where I was going, as well as carrying a pack with a map, compass, fire-starting materials, food, water, extra layers of clothing, knife, headlamp, extra batteries, and much more, with me. I get lost easily enough at the best of times, so know better than to try to rely solely on potentially faulty equipment like the GPS on my phone (two words – battery drain. Well, six words, if you add the ever-popular: MB trips and falls).
Many of these things come from spending time outdoors as a child (lessons reinforced by marriage to an Army veteran, who takes Always Be Prepared to another level). Learning – sometimes the hard way – that it’s easy to get lost, that fires are sometimes challenging to start when the fuel is wet, that it’s important to let people know where you are because unexpected things happen (again, going back to the ever-popular: MB trips and falls), that hot soup tastes a million times better (regardless of what, exactly, is in that soup) when your toes and fingers are chilled from exploring the frozen North Country, and that flowing water under the ice can make the ice unsafe on which to walk, but will create the most hauntingly beautiful sounds ever.
Those lessons are what caused me to fall in love with the outdoors. They are what caused my children (forced outside to play, as my mom did to me) to fall in love with the outdoors. And, with a little love and intentionality, can be used to help newcomers to this region (or to spend time outside!) fall in love with the outdoors.
All it takes is a little singing ice and soup.