As Prufrock wondered: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”
Yesterday I held my breath, following Mark Wells across Lake Bonney through what he called “chandelier ice.” Imagine a mile of lake ice looking like all the pendants of a vast chandelier, hung upside down! — delicate crystals of ice like icicles pointing the wrong way – tapered end up, ice-fingers and ice-wands and ice-candles and some larger versions of the same features (big as my wrist, and viciously difficult to walk through without twisting an ankle), all glittering like glass. Mark and I were walking across the lake’s West Lobe, towards the camp on the opposite end of the East Lobe.
It was incredibly warm, mid-30s and sunny. The lake melts down about a foot each summer – Mark pointed out a high spot on the ice, like a small rectangular mesa, marking the previous season’s location of the hut. Where smooth, the surface of the lake conceals hollow voids, and it is covered by a micro-layer of melted water, making it slick. The helicopter deposited us on the lake, near the “weather shelter” they use as a field lab. As she got off the helicopter, Dr. Bess Ward took a few steps in her bunny boots and then slipped and fell hard. To keep us from falling every few steps, we switched to mountain boots and hiking shoes, with “stabilicer” soles attached to our shoes with velcro straps. Stabilicers are flat soles of hard rubber, with sharp bolt-heads festooning the bottom, for grip and traction on even the glassiest undulations of blue ice.
Walking over the rougher swaths of chandelier ice, one leaves an unavoidable wake — the shatter-scatter-twinkle of broken glass. It sounded as if we were tossing light bulbs over our shoulders as we walked.