Posted by: goodcoldwater | April 26, 2010

spring fever 1: ice 1 – first signs of river thaw

At last!! Yesterday part of the Klondike River began breaking, which means the Yukon River has a whole segment of activity now too, where the two rivers meet. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to see running water, water in movement, again.

These few moments were shot on my camera around 6:00 tonight, at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers. You can’t tell from this section of the water, but the Yukon River ice is still completely locked into place for the majority of miles near Dawson City. If weather predictions hold and temperatures stay above zero this week, it could all crack up soon.

And so the score shifts. Just seeing water in motion refreshes me. “It’s alive!”

Spring fever 1: ice 1.

Posted by: goodcoldwater | April 25, 2010

spring fever vs. ice: 0-1

A morning in Yukon spring. It’s two weeks into spring, or more if we use a calendar date instead of an experiential one, but the ice remains thick on the dredge ponds.

You could almost pretend the dock is floating in a summery place if you take a photo and email it to people as a tiny thumbnail because then the ice looks like white sand – according to an unsolicited comment from a friend of mine (a moment I loved!):

But – I know it’s ice. And I know the spring fever buildup has got to erupt somewhere.

April 22. I wake up in the cabin where I’m house-sitting and mangle my socks back onto my feet and wander downstairs to make coffee. I’ve taken a two-day holiday and I deserve it (who doesn’t!) – the winter’s been long. The sun lenses bright streaks into the kitchen and I optimistically take a mug of steaming coffee down to the dock, but the air’s still cold enough to see my breath.

“Do I have to come right out and tell you to move on? Just stop hanging around!” This has happened to me a few times now, I end up talking to the ice because it’s been painful to wear mittens and gloves for 8.5 months straight. I might have to call into town for a rescue, I add silently.

But instead of leaving, I try to reason with the ice, help it warm up a little, encourage it to get its self-motivation focused on Dissolving Into Sunlit Air And Gorgeously Reflective Liquid. This is a photographic record of my persuasion.

I’m not sure but I think the ice is looking for an alpha-female duel here. I have never come across this kind of conversation before, so I just sit and watch.

Because I am, by now, out of coffee (that’s 6 mugs brimming with coffee now poured out as a devotional spring sacrifice).

Half an hour later, it’s clear the ice is winning. There will be no melting. Simply absorbing what I threw out there:

An hour later:

April 23, after a frickin’ morning snowfall!!

And last night, April 24, looking down the dredge pond into the 8:00 pm bright sunlight. The ice offers me an ice-star for bravery in playing.

Clearly there are more on-edge days to come, given this morning’s view of the Yukon River. It’s hard to be around people right now since I’m all nerves and strange explosions keep happening around me. For now, the competition of wills stands at Spring Fever 0: Ice 1.

Posted by: goodcoldwater | April 22, 2010

artist seeks coach: spring fever vs ice

Spring is taking its sloooww sweet time to warm everything up, but considering last year’s sudden melt and how much damage that caused – flooding and thicker-than-average ice floes wiped out Eagle, Alaska, for example – I am trying hard not to complain. (See my post from last May about Eagle’s rough ride).

And, well, I feel a little guilty, spending months getting to know ice and now asking it – to just go away, really, pronto, post haste.

Okay, what about everyone else? City of Dawson crew have had their hands full getting the town’s pipes thawed to handle all the meltwater. The thaw requires planning and logistical planning, since Dawson has an underground pipe system plus a desire to keep the roads drained as much as possible.

Here are some shots from 7th Avenue, two blocks from my house, and from 5th Avenue, near the city’s museum. What’s going on? Warm water flows from hydrant to hose to storm drain, preparing the way.

The south end of Seventh Avenue is lower than the middle of town and so a lot of water pools here.

Earlier that day – March 28 – the City workers drove around in a backhoe and dug up the gravel and mud that had accumulated over the winter, even though the ground is still mostly frozen. This drain is waiting for its hydrant attachment.

Gradually (much of) the ice has turned to mud, and the drains are working fine. Shots from yesterday:

However, the fact that I’m biking around taking photos of storm drains has me a little worried. Spring may be winning against ice right now, but has ice already scored too many goals in the game for my mental balance? A strong case of spring fever is clearly burbling under my sun-hungry skin.

I’m not quite sure who to call in as coach for this new game between ice and spring fever, but if I find out, I’ll let you know. And if you already know, ‘fess up!

Posted by: goodcoldwater | April 15, 2010

eyjafjallajökull: boiling basalt meets ice, enemies, friends

“Iceland! you’re going buckwild!!!!”
(comment on Iceland’s Facebook page, Apr 15/10)

steam vent from the March 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption (Flickr photo by Icelandic photographer Örvar Atli Þorgeirsson, Creative Commons attribution license)

You might think that an ice-cap and its attendant glaciers would weigh enough to keep a few rocks in place. But no, basalt at 1200C (see below) can do just about anything it wants to when it’s forced upwards by volcanic explosion, as the current activity in the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic system demonstrates.

Eyjafjallajokull is the sixth largest glacier in Iceland and is (or was?) cone-shaped. It’s located to the north of Skógar and to the west of the bigger glacier Myrdalsjokull.

photo of pre-eruption Eyjafjallajokull Glacier (

As we all now know, its icecap covers a volcano (1,666 metres or 5,466 ft in height); it erupted a few times in the past millenium (in 920, in 1612, and between 1821–1823) and now twice this year.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t regularly read seismic activity pages and so you may also have missed knowing that the first series of eruption started way back on March 20.

photo Ólafur Sigurjónsson, March 25 (for more see

While eruptions seemed to subside on day nine, by April 5 lava fountains were still prominent, and it wasn’t until April 9 that the Institute of Earth Sciences (University of Iceland) went in to measure the new volcano in the area, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Society.

So what happened? A nifty science blog called Eruptions, written by geologist Erik Klemetti, explains:

After the original fissures ceased activity, the magma found a new route to the surface, this time underneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier…. [A]n earthquake swarm arrived underneath the icecap, which prompted Icelandic officials to start evacuating people from the area around the volcano (photo from prior to this eruption) for fears for joklhlaups – volcanically-triggered glacial floods. These floods are started by the intense melting that occurs when basalt at 1200C meets ice – and they can be very powerful floods, moving car-to-house sized material with ease.

Currently, there are reports that the new fissure that has opened underneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier has created a hole/crater ~200 meters deep…. Gunnar Gudmunsson of the Icelandic Met Office thinks most of the eruption is occurring at or near the summit of the volcano underneath the ice cap. This has, of course, lead to intense melting of the glacial ice, raising water levels in drainages leading from the volcano in some cases 3 meters in a matter of hours. The south of Iceland has been told to expect flooding due to the eruption. The walking bridge near Fimmvörduháls has also been taken out by the floods, while other measures are being taken to protect roadways.

NASA image showing new volcano vents on April 1/10

The impact on Icelanders so far seems to be manageable, fortunately, though not pleasant – about 800 residents near the Eyjafjallajökull glacier have been moved as rivers are rising. (I’m not wishing anyone the loss of their farmland, but by “manageable” I mean there are no deaths or reports of total property destruction. Cross fingers).

Icelandic website Ice News reports this about the flooding:

The volcano erupting under South Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier has opened a 2km long gorge and is already considered much bigger than the nearby Fimmvorduhals volcano which appears to have finally ended yesterday. Glacier water has already started flooding surrounding land and evacuation orders are in force.

Iceland’s main highway, Route 1, is being dug up south of the glacier in an attempt to save Markarfljots Bridge from the flood water.

Flood water is pouring off the glacier both to the north and the south, but both flows will enter the sea to the south.

Due to the evacuations, nobody is believed to be in danger and no towns or villages have been affected – although conditions can change rapidly.

And CBC reports from an interview with geophysicist Pall Einarsson, “magma was melting a hole in the thick ice covering the volcano’s crater, sending water coursing down the glacier.” Rivers in the area rose as much as 3 metres.

Socially outside Iceland: mayhem. We depend on planes, and so we equally depend on clear air for planes to fly through. Yesterday’s massive eruption threw so much ash into the air that jet engines would be mangled if they flew through it (back to Klemetti at Eruptions – “the silica glass shards that make up most ash can melt inside jet engines, causing them to stall – which could lead to crashing”).

photo courtesy Árni Sæberg, Icelandic Coast Guard

An interesting location for comments about this natural phenomenon is, believe it or not, on Facebook. I’ve been a fan for a few months now of the Facebook page for Iceland and it’s generally a site that plays up a marketing/tourism scheme of a place that could be your whimsical, slightly shy but likeable friend.

The “about me” section says “Iceland would like to be your friend,” for example (are Iceland and Canada cousins?). It’s pleasant and many of the pictures are gorgeous; about 25,700 people currently think so.

This morning, Iceland’s status read: Iceland apologizes for the inconvenience.

The remarks beneath that, and on the page all day, are a fantastic study in humanity – the desire to laugh, to insult, to comfort “Iceland,” to compose impetuous and uninformed scientific guesses about how the ash “will” cause a two-year-long winter or global crop failure, to predict apocalypse in both ironic and deadly serious tones.

The anthropomorphic age is still alive and well whether nor not we’re in the anthropocene age. Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

the humourists:

we wanted cash not ash!

It’s a very sneaky way to attack the UK. :p

Be careful with apologizing. The EU might tax your volcanic CO2 emissions and that would make the country bankrupt more than ever!

Hey, someone’s trying to blow up Iceland!!! I’m coming over as soon as I can…

How you all doin? Ya comin through this okay? Ya gotta quit smokin dear.

Is that the volcanic ash or all the uk companies that failed as a result of your negligence and terrorism?

Was it caused by all the money being lifted from the banks, taking weight off the island and thus making it easier for the magma to rise to the surface.

The Icelandic economy had one final wish….Spread my ashes over Europe

the futurists:

you shouldn’t ! Nature rules global economy … Fu** airplanes they just good to come and trip around your Gaïa sacred land ! :) !

we’ll learn how to survive one or two days without planes. maybe it will turn out to be a useful lesson…

what happended in Iceland wasn’t a natural disaster! they don’t exist! Just the Earth is alive! since our Earth born this things exist!…just Nature!…but be strong people! all’s gonna be OK.!

I love it, it’s a fantastic display of the power of nature, reminding us who is really in charge. I wish all in Iceland are safe.

Just think of it as the hand God reaching and giving you a lesson in perspective. A fairly gentle one at that.

this is obviously a sign that the apocalypse is coming everyone repent for your sins now!!!

spread of ash from Eyjafjallajökull eruptions, April 14/10 – NASA photo

the growlers:

Dear Iceland, please hold the ash inside your mouth.
I want to fly home on sunday and with the ash in the air I had to stay longer in the USA. What have I done to you that you are so mean to me?

you better be sorry! almost missed a holiday in tenerife >:(

the silver linings:

Not a problem my friend… All of us, from time to time, have to let off a little steam.
Everyone blows off steam now and then, only tequila is involved in some cases … :)

Not a contrail over Southern Ireland, it looks really cool !

It’s brilliant, thanks to the ash my boyfriend can’t fly to a conference, so he most likely will actually be able to be here for my birthday this weekend, THANK YOU ICELAND!!! ♥ ♥ ♥

You put on a good firework show, gave people a day off, quieted the skies. Well done!

Thank you for the clear skies above europe ;p

it looks exciting, but nice of you to say this.

Hope you are feeling better soon, Iceland. We still love you very much. :-)

Oh Iceland, I dont mind your nature getting a bit crazy on our finnish climate. Let’s hope you’ll be alright after all this fuzz.

Don’t you be worrying your wee self Iceland, the main thing is that you, your people and animals are all safe. I’m sure your insides will settle down soon. Rest easy my friend!! xx

anonymous fan-uploaded image on the companion site “I’m the Icelandic Volcano that Ruined your Flight Plans. sorry” possibly colour-enhanced?

Posted by: goodcoldwater | April 7, 2010

ice essentials, dawson city film fest

Last weekend Dawson City was wrapped up in the 11th annual International Short Film Festival, and it was “an obliterating mind expander” to quote one of the writers on the Fest’s confessional blog (I’ll just confess here that I was too busy having my mind torqued and my martini-consumption levels tested to take time to comment on that blog’s amusing and honest posts – next year different, I promise).

I don’t like to have to choose “the best” of most things because how can you compare abstract vs. narrative films, or seeing an excellent screening vs. sharing a bottle of wine with a long-time friend who was in town for only .52 days, for example? The DCISFF had many films from the Yukon, including some great docs from Old Crow (a fly-in community in the northern Yukon) so ice did play a role in many films and some of the films wouldn’t have worked at all without ice. Here are two of my favorite films in the “ice essentials” category:

Ice as spiritual/mystical companion: Tungijuq: What We Eat (7 min, 2009, 35mm and HDcam)

As quoted from the IsumaTV website: Inuit jazz throat-singer Tanya Tagaq, and Cannes-winning filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, talk back to Brigitte Bardot and anti-sealhunting lobby on the eternal reality of hunting.

Selected for Sundance, Toronto International Film Festival, Best Short, imagineNATIVE Film Fest 2009.

Ice Cubicle obsession here: The protagonist morphs from wolf to caribou and onward (I don’t want to spoil it for you) and the transformations carry a dreamlike quality because they’re often combined with a cut to white (or bright). The human/animal line is permeable in Tungijuq; by the time the protagonist swims under the ice, as in the press image above, co-directors co-directors Paul Raphaël and Félix Lajeunesse have created such a strong visual vocabulary that I would believe any transformation that comes next.

The generosity of this creative team is incredible – you can watch the film in its entirety on IsumaTV here.

Ice as identity-maker: Hockey Nomad
Mike Downie, Canada, 2004, Documentary, 52 minutes

From the DCISFF site: This Genie Award winning documentary follows Dave Bidini, a noted Canadian musician and hockey fan, as he travels the globe to unique locations in search of other die-hard hockey fans and the true spirit of the game. He makes his way to the desert of Dubai in the UAE where a beautifully maintained ice rink miraculously rises from the scorching red sands, then on to Romania’s famed Transylvania, where hockey first started in the 1920’s after one local caught sight of the game being played on a 10-second newsreel. The newsreel came from a place called Canada. Bidini ends his travels in Mongolia where the game is played in the open air in the shadow of a Buddhist temple and the first generation of players are still only in their thirties.

Ice Cubicle obsession here: This film contains some of the saddest and some of the most glamorous ice I’ve ever seen. The saddest was in Mongolia: the outdoor ice rink wouldn’t freeze on time because the players were unable to get city permission to use the water, so they had to flood it at night, making layers that just weren’t thick enough to overcome grasses and mud. The most glamorous was in Dubai, where the ice appears to be meticulously maintained beyond any Canadian expectations (and our expectations are high!).

In each country in the Hockey Nomad, ice hockey becomes a way to express cultural identity – something we lost once the NHL became a large-scale swapping game where players move between contracts instead of playing in the places where they formed their first loyalties with ice and blood and each other.

Bidini was an excellent addition to the festival, captivating many of us with stories about sports, travel, hockey, film, more hockey, the meaning of early Rheostatics songs (when asked), and more hockey. He spent some time on the local radio station on Sunday afternoon and joined the ice baseball game on Saturday (though it was cancelled since too many of us were indoors watching films).

I was expecting to be neutral-to-gently-amused by his film – I can handle hockey from time to time, but I don’t need it in my life – but Bidini’s natural ability to listen without judging, and to find a gentle laugh in so many situations, came through in The Hockey Nomad and I enjoyed it for its study of how a game can bring new friendships and new identities out of unlikely companions.

Dave Bidini (R) chats with David Curtis, one of the DCISFF founders, on the front steps of the ODD Gallery

Posted by: goodcoldwater | March 24, 2010

phenom: pingos of the far north

What is a pingo? An ice-cored hill that only exists where permafrost exists, because permafrost is what pushes the ice upwards like a giant pimple. There are about 5,000 of these in the world, and 25% of them – 1350, to be precise – exist in the Mackenzie Delta on the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula.

I love this beautiful visual from Doug Wilkinson’s 1975 book The Arctic Coast (Natural Science of Canada Ltd., McClelland publishers), probably because it reminds me of childhood hours shading drawings with pencil crayons. The accompanying text:

The most spectacular form of ground ice is the pingo, ice-cored hills found in the Mackenzie Delta that are often a thousand feet high. Pingos are formed as a result of what is called a “closed” system of unfrozen soil developing within an area of permanently frozen ground.

A large lake, beneath which there is no permafrost, fills with sediment or partially drains away (1). Permafrost will form on the bottom and sides so as to trap a huge core of unfrozen, water-saturated doil above it (2). Year by year, the freezing continues (3); hydrostatic pressure forces the water upward toward the surface of the land (4) to form a huge ice “pingo.”

And another diagram demonstrating how pingos can push up even through a “lens” of water:

I was eager to see pingos at last when we were in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, over New Year’s Eve 2009. However, we didn’t see them at all on the drive into Tuk because a low-lying ice fog kept our view contracted to 500 metres or so.

The next day, on Dec 30, I walked along one of the many spits that dangle into the winter-frozen Beaufort Sea. Pingo views at 12:0 and 1:00 pm – the brightest times of day – were like this:

Those bumps in the distance are two of the most famous pingos in the world: Ibyuk and Split. Ibyuk, on the left, is about 50 metres high and is “the tallest pingo in Canada and the second tallest in the world,” according to Parks Canada. It is the world’s largest growing pingo, though, and it continues to grow at a rate of about 2 centimetres per year. Ibyuk is estimated to be more than 1,000 years old.

That’s old ice. Does the fact that Ibyuk has an estimated age mean there’s a reliable formula to determine the age of a pingo by measuring its dimensions? Simply Science, a research publication by The Aurora Institute in Inuvik, NWT, says otherwise:

Pingos, like plants and animals, grow most rapidly when young. A few grow nearly 1 m (3 feet) in the first year. The growth rate slows with time until, eventually, growth ceases. Contrary to what might be expected, the age of a pingo cannot be estimated by its size. This is because the diameter of a pingo is established at birth by the shape, depth, and permafrost conditions of the residual pond where growth commenced. A pingo then grows higher but only a little wider. Therefore, a small pingo can be much older than a large pingo, or vice versa. Most of the Tuktoyaktuk area pingos are hundreds to thousands of years old so that the birth of a pingo is a rare event.

Pingos eventually collapse under their own pressure, as this Parks Canada photo shows.

The 50 m thick ice core of lbyuk Pingo is protected from melting by about 15 m (48 feet) of frozen peat and sands. Disturbing the surface can cause pingos to melt faster – less insulation on the ice = less stability. I regret not having my camera handy when we were in the grocery store and I saw a poster saying: “You can help save the pingos!” Driving a skidoo or ATV all over a pingo surface can damage the surface dramatically, the poster pointed out, so a bit of winter fun can lead to increased melt rates.

Only a tiny number of humans on the planet get to experience pingos as a backyard phenomenon, as you can see on this map from Canada’s Polar Environments (University of Guelph). But if you’re interested in  Pingo Canadian Landmark Park as a destination, despite it’s weirdly clunky name, check out information on the Parks Canada website.

Posted by: goodcoldwater | March 17, 2010

lumps of freshwater ice: shackleton in the weddell sea

I took the book South out of my bag and immersed myself in its prose as I waited for my sushi to be prepared. The sidewalks outside were icy, but indoors everyone was jacketless. In another time, near another continent, Ernest Shackleton and his men were not so comfortable:

We ate a cold meal and did what little we could to make things comfortable for the hours of darkness. Rest was not for us. During the greater part of the night the sprays broke over the boats and froze in masses of ice, especially at the stern and bows. This ice had to be broken away in order to prevent the boats growing too heavy. The temperature was below zero and the wind penetrated our clothes and chilled us almost unbearably.

One of our troubles was lack of water. We had emerged so suddenly from the [ice] pack into the open sea that we had not had time to take aboard ice for melting in the cookers, and without ice we could not have hot food.

The Dudley Docker had one lump of ice weighing about ten pounds, and this was shared out among all hands. We sucked small pieces and got a little relief from thirst engendered by the salt spray, but at the same time we reduced our bodily heat….

Beautiful crab rolls wrapped in luscious mango … spicy tuna and deliciously oily eel … almost one hundred years after Ernest Shackleton and his crew attempted Antarctica on the Endurance Expedition, it seems a miracle that these succulent mouthfuls of non-Northern fare were available in Whitehorse where I unwound for a weekend meal at Tokyo Sushi.

Shackleton and 28 men left The Endurance on October 27, 1915, when it was pinned, and later crushed, by ice floes in the Weddell Sea. They drifted on ice floes until April 11, 1916 before the winter ice broke up enough for them to launch their three small whaler boats into the floe- and berg-thick ocean. Their goal: a rocky chunk of land called Elephant Island. The alternative: drowning in Antarctica’s summer thaw. The suprise-attack enemy: thirst due to lack of freshwater ice.

As described on night three:

We were dreadfully thirsty now. We found that we could get momentary relief by chewing pieces of raw seal meat and swallowing the blood, but thirst came back with redoubled force owing to the saltiness of the flesh. I gave orders, therefore, that meat was to be served out only at stated intervals during the day or when thirst seemed to threaten the reason of any particular individual.

… The temperature was twenty below freezing point; Greenstreet’s right foot got badly frostbitten, but Lees restored it by holding it in his sweater against his stomach. Other men had minor frostbites, due principally to the fact that their clothes were soaked through with salt water.

At daylight we found ourselves close alongside land, but the weather was so thick that we could not see where to make for a landing. Having taken the tiller again after an hour’s rest under the shelter of the dripping tent, I ran the Dudley Docker off before the gale, following the coast around to the north.

This course for the first hour was fairly risky, the heavy sea before which we were running threatening to swamp the boat, but by 8 a.m. we had obtained a slight lee from the land.

Then I was able to keep her very close in, along a glacier front, with the object of picking up lumps of fresh water ice as we sailed through them. Our thirst was intense. We soon had some ice aboard, and for the next hour and a half we sucked and chewed fragments of ice with greedy relish.

Rarely has an ice-cold Kirin and a chaser of ice water felt so refreshing.

Quotes from “South: The Endurance Expedition,” by Ernest Shackleton, first published by UK press William Heinemann, 1919. There are dozens of editions of this book out there; I used the Penguin pocketbook edition from 1999.

Posted by: goodcoldwater | March 6, 2010

shot glasses for birthday toasts

What to make for a friend’s birthday when she already has everything she needs? Ice shot glasses, for sure!

It was only -16 C last Sunday, so I put the shot glass molds fairly early to give them enough time to set (10 a.m. on a weekend is early for this bird).

When I removed the plastic at about 4:30 p.m., the ice was thicker than I’d anticipated. This meant the air bubble – i.e. the hollow that would hold liquid – was quite shallow. And that shallowness meant I had to saw the opening into the bottom, wider end of the ice oval instead of using the bottom as the base. The shot glasses ended up more like ice-cream cone shapes than like goblets:

So I was a little surprised, but when you work with ice, you have to be open to the chance elements. These shot glasses are easy to grasp, and they look pretty, so I was satisfied.

Preparations continued: I set the bottle of Gray Goose out on the porch to take it to below-freezer temperatures; a film-maker friend dropped by to chat while I baked the orange chiffon birthday cake; people phoned to reconfirm time and location and “of course bring another friend if you want to, it’s your birthday!”

In the evening, when the 5 friends arrived, I put some blueberry juice out on the porch to cool as well. Since even fridge-temperature liquids are warmer than ice, it’s important to have chilled liquids to pour into ice glasses.

Dinner! Cake! Laughter! Song! And then it was time for the birthday toast.

We stood on the porch, and I passed the shot glasses around.

When I was sawing the shot glasses earlier, I paid careful attention to the bowl part. Now another feature became obvious:

It certainly added to the hilarity! (Insert bawdy unrepeatables here.)

I didn’t get many photos from the toast itself, since I was quickly told “enough with the documentation!” (not to mention I was busy filling the glasses for repeats.)

For once, the morning-after-party “mess” was lovely, not headache-inducing to look at.

They’re out on the railing still, morphing slowly in the afternoons when the sun somehow beams focused warmth through the sub-zero air. For a set of one-time-use shot glasses, they’re having a pretty good afterlife.

Posted by: goodcoldwater | February 25, 2010

seeing blue (ice) + gold at Vancouver 2010

I believe the Olympics have highlighted social issues we have here in Vancouver. And Canada. And the World. With or without the Olympics. They’re issues that need to be talked about. And I’m glad we’re talking about them. But I’m not willing to let that interfere with my respect for the Olympians – past and present (*with a nod to my godfather, former Olympic gymnast and judge).

The Olympics. The spirit of them. The passion of them.. I support that whole-heartedly. Go Canada. Go World.

Kaen Valoise as an urban Olympic ski-jumper

When the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics kicked off, The Ice Cubicle liked how Vancouver writer and budding playwright Kaen Valoise contrasted the lead-up to the Olympics and the Games themselves in a Facebook note, excerpted above.

So when I found out that Valoise had been enjoying not only the athletics but also the glowing, blue presence of ice in Vancouver – mild-weathered, coastal Vancouver! – I asked her for photos! thoughts! stories! and she graciously guest-blogged the following.

* * * * *

My friend Miranda and I walked all over this fine city, and checked out lots of Pavilions – including the Bell Ice Cube. Although the obvious corporate focus did make us hesitate, we were surprised with a truly fantastic experience! Of course, timing was also on our side.

As we arrived, we were handed a free pair of excellent quality headphones, and entered the large cube of a room all decked out in white. (Even the complimentary headphones were white!) From the ceilings hung long white wires – some with tiny white lights, and others with plug-ins for our headphones, so we could listen to one of several massive plasma screens that covered the walls.

In the centre of the room were waist-height podiums with screens and headphone plug-ins. These offered a small selection of short features, and we chose the “Athlete Profiles” option.

We plugged in and were instantly charmed by the terminally sweet Maelle Ricker. We giggled as she admitted to being an accordion player, inspired by an accordionist she saw during Vancouver’s World Expo in ’86.

We then turned to one of the massive plasma screens, and I noticed a new Snowboard Cross race was about to start.

We strode over and plugged in, and whaddya know: Maelle was one of the racers! You can imagine the charge of excitement we felt as we watched our new favourite Olympian win the gold!

The 31-year old, a two-times X-Games champion, who was fourth at the 2006 Olympics, raced to victory at Vancouver 2010.

It was a very thrilling race and the whole cube roared with cheery joy as she charged through the finish line! What a rush!!

The next day, I found my way to a local fancy shmancy restaurant, Monk McQueen’s in False Creek. Though not a place in which I would typically hang my hat, they had a very special feature I made a point of visiting: an Ice Lounge! The fee ($20.10, which includes a complimentary beverage) was a bit expensive, but in my world worth every penny!

Since first reading about Quebec’s ice hotel years ago, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of relaxing in a sub-zero climate. I mean – don’t we usually relax after releasing ourselves from the frosty outdoors? That I should be able to enjoy a -5 climate in Vancouver – whose temperatures only very rarely dip below zero – was even more of an unusual treat.

I giddily donned my big and fuzzy rental parka and stepped into the Great White North! The space was tiny, and I wondered if it served as their walk-in freezer when not decorated up as a lounge..!? But the limited capacity made it more cozy than crammed. A handful of ice sculptures decorated the space without threatening to take it over, and there was an ice bench draped in animal furs. (Luckily, I’m not a member of PETA)

The Ice Lounge serve drinks in an ice goblet. This was too challenging to firmly grip while wearing my mittens, but a bit too cold to hold without them. My solution? To drink quickly!! But then again, that’s pretty much just my general style anyway.

When I was there, the space was deserted. A moment of calm between two large groups, one which I watched leave, and another I watched arrive as I was preparing to leave. The sparseness gave me a moment to talk with the very kind and interesting bartender.

As I left, I wished a little that I’d gone with friends – a small group could easily have “owned” the space, and made it feel like our very own little frozen party! I hear they are thinking of keeping it open beyond the Olympics, so who knows, we might have our chance.

guest blogger Kaen Valoise a Vancouver-based writer, budding playwright and passionate theatre-lover who breathes deeply, laughs loudly, lives fully and loves blatantly.

Posted by: goodcoldwater | February 23, 2010

terje isungset: ice trumpeter seeks glaciers

One thing that strikes me about at Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset‘s invented instruments is how personalized they are. Isungset is one of only a handful of people in the world to make ice percussion instruments. And I’m pretty sure he’s the world’s sole crafter – or at least the master crafter – of ice trumpets.

ice trumpet! (photo Vidar Herre)

But his music sounds older than a human lifespan – sometimes ethereal, sometimes windy, sometimes like a howl – and it’s hard to say why, but it must have something to do with the instruments’ materiality.

Isungset nurtured his passion for making music out of natural elements over many years, so when he began exploring the possibilities of ice music, it didn’t take long before he started an IceMusic Festival in Geilo, Norway.

The first edition of the IceMusic Festival was in January 2006. One if the central themes of the festival is to celebrate and align with nature; on this note, the event is always scheduled to happen on the first full moon of each year. Some of you may have seen the Ice Cubicle post about this last June; discovering this imaginative, “impossible-music” festival has added a huge amount of inspiration to this blog in subtle ways over the months.

I interviewed Isungset just before this year’s IceMusic Festival, held January 29-30, 2010. Bill Covitz, an American ice sculptor who has worked with the festival since its inception, came to Geilo a week before the festival to make the stage, the ice harp and the decorations.

More than 150 visitors at the main concert saw Isungset, harpist Sidsel Walstad and vocalist Lena Nymark perform Wintersongs. The songs were from Isungset’s new album by the same name; it’s his sixth CD on the ice-music-only label that he started, All Ice Records.

Isungset spoke in a detailed way about listening carefully to the ice. My favorite part was how the physical qualities of the ice demand improvisation.  “I always have to improvise because I don’t know exactly how the instrument will sound,” he said.

the Wintersongs concert (photo Esther van Berk)

“It depends on the weather conditions, but even more than that, the instruments are always brand new or very new. If you play a violin from the 18th century and you’ve played it for 20 years, that’s different, you know what to expect. For me, I just have to listen to the instrument each time – you can decide a little bit beforehand but not too much.”

And there’s more. Here’s the interview, with thanks to Terje for having the patience to Skype in his last hour before catching a train to Geilo for the festival weekend.

Ice Cubicle: When did you first start using ice as a musical instrument?

Terje Isungset: In 1999 I was invited to play at a concert in Lille in a frozen waterfall. I used natural elements: sounds from the waterfall, also some stones and wood alongside other musicians, and I also tried ice! It sounded amazing, so I just had to continue the work.

I am a percussionist, a drummer, so I started with the ice percussion. In Sweden they have very high quality ice there, so I did some work with ice music for The Ice Hotel [in Jukkasjärvi].

The next year I went there to record what I think is the world’s first ice music CD – a work called Igloo. After that we did build one ice harp with a Swedish artist named Bengt Carling. And then made blowing instruments out of ice.

Ice C: These performances happened before you started up the first IceMusic Festival in 2006. How did the Festival begin?

TI: The idea of the ice music festival I had in 2005, so I asked a couple of winter-sport resorts in Norway if they would have an ice music festival. They were very positive but said, ‘We have to make the financials work out first, so you have to wait.’ Then I met Pål Medhus from Geilo, and he said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’

... and then carved into instruments "backstage" at the 2010 IceMusic Festival (photos (c) Solfrid Gjeldokk, used with permission)

He’s still running it and I am doing the programming and the creative direction. It is an amazing way to work out my ice music ideas.

Ice C: What physical qualities of the ice instruments influence the music that you compose?

TI: I try to create different moods in music, I am searching for the soul in the ice, so I try to find the ice that can sing. Read More…

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