The pancakes sound as if we are driving through slush. Windows shut. Blizzard. Wipers on panic, a heavy-wet-northeastern snow where tires leave rut walls eight-inches deep and the wheel wells fill with layer-cake ice sticky as honey. Bob says “Yes, check off that box.” Scott reminds him it doesn’t count, “if you can swim through it.” It doesn’t count until the noise of the ice on the hull is so loud “we can’t sit here talking.”
Our thrusters kick the heavy pancakes away from the stern the way we might, with a garden hose, clear a deck of autumn leaves, getting under them, flipping them over, so they are not so stuck to the ocean. The edges are powdery, wounded, as if they have been bumping into each other for a while.
The ship kicks out a pocket big enough to deploy an instrument. Then we continue forward, serpentine, donuts in a parking lot. No traffic. The ice here is heavy enough, tight enough, we no longer push it out of the way. As we cut through, water spills over the ice. Close to the boat, the floes crack and split and ride on top of one another. Later they will attempt to glue themselves back together. Out a few tens of feet, in small black pools, I can see the water slosh as our wake runs out underneath the sheet. On top, the ridges of snow are streaked like a desert growing dunes on top of scars.
All the fun and games have fouled our seachests. Slush in the intakes. We drive backwards slowly, like we’ve gone too far down the wrong skinny, country road. We turn and leave the ice for the night. The working deck is heated, so the falling snow settles only on the buoys and bumpers—and the train wheels and grabs, palettes, and lumber, the picnic table, the van, and the man-cage. Tomorrow we will look for heavier ice, a less gummy road, and give it another go.
—Thanks to the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, UAF (2015)