I always find it a little amazing when I am walking across a lake that has recently frozen over. Especially when you realize that there are fish down below you, still swimming about and living their lives. It really hits home when you can see them through clear ice before the lakes get covered in snow. I was out working one early winter doing some work on an island not far from shore and I was boating to it each day. Then a cold front moved through, the lake froze over and two days later, I could walk to the island.
It was a rather strange feeling for me but imagine what it was like for the fish to see some big critter walking over top of them. Not only could they see me, but they could hear me because sound travels well in water. It would be like strange creatures walking across your roof which you could see through your skylights.
Here is a little game you can play: try to imagine the depth of water you are walking over. If it is a metre or less, you might feel safe or OK. Ten metres might get you a little nervous and 100 metres could really give you a fright. But logically, does the depth of water really matter? If the ice breaks, either you can touch bottom and walk out, or you can’t.
Here is something else to consider: what percentage of the population in the North, in Canada and in the world have walked across a lake on the ice? It’s probably a much smaller number than you think. In the North, it would be very interesting to know the number. Some people probably go out on the ice a few times a year, whereas others do it daily.
I am taking a wild guess that maybe the ice travelers versus the stay-on-landers is around 50/50. But now think of Canada — most people live in big sprawling cities and urban settings down south in more temperate climes. Not many of them have ever walked across a lake on ice. If you did a survey, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was less than one per cent of the population who actually take the time to find some ice on a lake and walk out on it.
Worldwide, most of the eight billion people on this planet live in tropical areas and have never been to an ice-covered lake, let alone walked across one. They have no idea of the thrill they are missing in the spring and fall, particularly when the ice can be rather thin or mushy.
This is a pretty amazing planet we live on, and it has some radically different environments. It has hot deserts and, believe it or not, the NWT is a cold desert. Both are arid because they get little yearly rainfall and that is what makes them arid. It takes a bit of mental effort to wrap your mind around the fact that we are a desert. In winter, we certainly see a lot of ice and snow while in the summer, there are lakes and swamps everywhere. It’s only when you stop to look at the yearly rain and snowfall that you realize this is actually a rather dry area, which is what makes it a desert.
This past summer in the North, much of the ice and snow evaporated or sublimated and got sucked up by the dry air. During the summer, we got next to no rain because we were going through a drought and that is what made the forest tinder dry and so flammable.
Here is another reality people seem to forget: the forest is made up of trees, lichens, and mosses, which are made from carbon. It’s the same carbon that in past geological epochs created oil and gas, or what we call hydrocarbons because they got liquified.
So, on a hot dry summer’s day when the forest gets burning, it is like trying to fight an oil or gasoline fire. It burns incredibly fast and hot and sucks up a lot of oxygen. Just as most people in the big cities down south have never walked on a frozen lake, they have never been close to a raging forest fire, so they don’t really understand them very well. That is why we need people who know the North to help draft the rules and regulations for the North.
I know that is a radical idea, but what the heck — one can dream, right?