‘Ice Out’ on Joe’s Pond | Sign of Spring
What hasn’t changed is winter, which in the Northeast Kingdom is long and, even with a spate of wimpy temperatures and skimpy snows in recent years, still leaves its inhabitants yearning for an intimation of spring. Two years ago that “sign” occurred on April 8 at 5:25 p.m. The year before, it was April 27 at 10:17 p.m., and before that April 5 at 2:46 p.m. And last year, despite my best guess (April 27 at 6:20 p.m.), it was Barre resident Gary Clark who hit nature’s lottery with his prediction of 8:44 a.m. on Wednesday, April 24.
Only five days before it sank and stopped the clock, I’d stood on the shore of Joe’s Pond and squinted at the ice-out raft, with its cinderblock cargo and orange flag. The flag post was clearly listing to the right, and though still solidly afloat, the ice spread across the lake looked rotten, like old linoleum with gray water stains. Cold in the brisk wind, I shoved my hands into my jacket, where my left hand grazed the lumpy wallet harboring my lavender ticket. Just one more week, I wished for my little ticket: Please be chilly and cloudy for one more week.
Nevertheless, there were little wins and gains for spring over the following days: The tree swallows coasted into town; a white-throated sparrow began chanting on a branch; and then, just as the last bubbles of the newly sunken contraption were bursting at the surface, the first squeaks of peepers. But the last vestiges, the final payout, are blessedly yet to come, when the other half of the betting pool goes to Northstar Fireworks in East Montpelier.
Jules Chatot Jr. admits that when he was a boy, the Joe’s Pond Association would shoot boomers off his family’s front lawn, and he would naively think, “Wow! What a party!” for his father, born on July 3rd. Now the professional display of sky dazzlers comes replete with names that seem to sum up the North Country winter’s yield to spring and summer and fall and back to winter with a haiku–like economy: “Midnight Snow with Green Pistil,” “Crackling Wave to Green,” “Brocade with Orange Strobing Pistil,” followed by “Red and Silver Cascade.”
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