The Night the River Froze

This post is part of a series contributed by DRA Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.


snowstorm on the river

Last week it came off cold. Up until then, things had been pretty tame as winters go. The Damariscotta remained completely open, the tide whispering and roiling as always, keeping the old ice-maker at bay. Boat traffic had been regular, for January anyhow, mostly clam diggers and oystermen, and the steady trading of ducks, the swift drifting of ice cakes and the grinding of shell ice around the point all served, if anything, to heighten my awareness of the river’s deep-running power.

Despite the history of winters past, the ones that gave us old photographs of teams of horses hauling houses (!) across the frozen expanse, the near memory of the last few years has created a lot of conjecture about how and why those old-fashioned winters differed from those of late. The impression, on the surface, is certainly that those churning green waters are no longer to be stilled by a few degrees more or less. No, it will take more than that.

Well, the other day we got our “old-fashioned” cold snap. The thermometer got down to zero and stayed there all day. Better still, the wind picked up, and it blew and blew hard out of the west, from straight across the river. The radio made a lot of the wind chill factor. Flesh exposed to the elements was supposed to freeze in mere seconds. The advice was to keep your mittens on and your zipper up.

Meanwhile, the river smoked and frothed with bright whitecaps as it braced against the arctic blast, too busy in its silvery haze to give much thought to making ice. Small rafts of winter ducks, flashing their patches of white, swam about, dove and popped back up quite merrily, paying about as much heed to the wind chill advisory as would the man in the moon.

lobster buoys in a snowstorm on the riverI did notice, however, that our cove on the lee shore was fast filling up with slush ice, which was forming as vapors blew off the tops of waves to freeze instantly on the wind. There was the feeling in the air, in the sky, that this was a big weather system coming down upon us. Heavy snow was forecast for that night, with a prediction of much blowing and drifting snow on winds well in excess of thirty miles per hour, meeting the definition of blizzard conditions. As night fell and snow began to fall, my last glimpses of the river showed it black and grey, running hard on the tide.

The next morning found me plowing snow. A full day more of it was forecast, my efforts more perfunctory than effective – I was mostly a spectator. It was still cold, never straying far from zero.

My first sight of the river, through the blizzard, told me something had happened. It was difficult to see through the blowing snow, but there was nothing dark out there, nothing to suggest water or waves or current, not even a slick, black, swirling eddy. Everything was white. I walked to the shore. Peering hard, I could barely make out the far side here and there – whiteness . . . everywhere. The frozen surface was still, blanketed with snow. Wispy, white twisters danced downwind. That was all. In just one old-fashioned night, the river had frozen.


Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on DRA’s Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.

Photos courtesy of Barnaby Porter.