The snow squeaks beneath my boots. In the early morning, car starters groan as drivers coax their vehicles to life. It's been an especially cold winter in northern Minnesota. The lakes have grown still and solid--so solid that pickup trucks cruise across the ice to park next to sprawling ice houses. The land, too, has an eerie stillness--skies barren of birds, animals hunkered down, sounds hushed by a blanket of snow.
How strange, then, to look out the window and to watch diamonds of light shimmer on moving water, to see waves run up a frozen beach and then slide away, free and liquid. Lake Superior, that inland sea, is full of motion.
On some days, the wind comes up, and roaring breakers send walls of foam over protrusions of dolomite.
On other days, a gentle breeze strums the lake's smooth surface, and whisps of fog dally above the water.
At the shoreline, there is a stalemate. Lake Superior's waves run up onto the pebbled beach, lapping at a transparent coating of ice. The lake cannot melt the earth's frozen shell, and the earth cannot solidify the lake's liquid immensity, though the lake does leave behind hard, white pillows on the the shoreline's rocky outcroppings.
If the cold weather holds and deepens, ice shelves will grow outward from the shoreline, and the lake will subside into stillness. If the winter is exceptionally cold--say, the coldest in a decade, or two decades, or three--the ice may, indeed, triumph, the lake solidifying into a vast, white table that stretches to somewhere beyond the horizon. But for now, and for weeks to come, this great lake seethes and whispers, tosses and roars. It remains, for now, an oasis of motion within a vast expanse of winter stillness.