You never really know your friends from your enemies until the ice breaks, says an Eskimo proverb. I don’t aim to find out.

While I do have a yen to go skating on our Island ponds, most of them aren’t ready yet. It takes at least three inches of solid ice to safely hold one person, four to be sure to hold a group of skaters. “Thick and blue, tried and true — thin or crispy, way too risky,” are words to live by. Slush has half the strength of blue ice and river ice is 15 per cent weaker.

Ice is pretty amazing stuff. Fifteen inches can hold a pick-up truck and 36 inches of solid ice can hold 110 tons, or about the weight of two tractor trailers loaded with stone. Start your engines, gentlemen!

In all seriousness, if you ever are with a person or pet that goes through the ice, follow this advice — reach, throw, go. If you are on solid ground, get low and reach for them (so that they don’t pull you in, too). If they are further away, throw them a branch, rope, or something that you can pull in. Finally go (or call) for help, lest you also end up beneath the ice.

This of course begs the question: ice — friend or floe?

Ice is a mineral, simply water that has frozen. It floats because it is about 9 per cent less dense than its liquid kin. This is highly unusual, since substances usually shrink in volume when their temperature goes down. For water in its liquid and gas form, this rule holds true; but solid water, or ice, expands. Lucky for us that ice bucks the trend, or we would lose our fresh water supply when ponds, rivers and streams froze from the bottom up under that scenario.

Ice is made up of crystals. The form that these crystals take is always a hexagon, or six-shaped structure (think snowflake), at least on this planet. Ice is found throughout the solar system and beyond, but it can take on different crystal structures in varying pressures and temperatures in outer space. Consider that Pluto is up to 80 per cent ice, and many of the other planetary moons contain ice too.

Back on earth and beyond our ponds, on open water, ice lovers (and linguists) revel in the many varieties of ice. From open water clear of any ice, ‘new’ ice forms. New ice is less than 10 centimeters deep and can be further classified as frazil, nilas, slush, pancake, and grease ice, each variety with its own look and characteristics. This may all sound like a mouthful, but that would be something else. A mouthful of ice might belong to someone who has pagophagia, an eating disorder characterized by the compulsive consumption of ice.

Getting into the thick of it is young ice, which is 10 to 30 centimeters deep, and from there, ice depths in the middle range (5 to 10 centimeters) is transition ice. The thickest stuff of all, at more than 2 meters deep, is called congelation ice and it definitely won’t be found in Vineyard Haven Harbor. Congelation ice is the stuff of the Arctic and the type of ice that we should worry about melting. If all of the ice on Earth melted, sea level would rise 70 meters.

Is there any rime or reason to it all? Rime, yes, since rime is a type of ice formed when water falls on a cold surface and freezes. Reason, no, for ice, it is simply the season.


Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.