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When the ice comes

On the day before the Buffalo Bills played their last regular season home game, the lower part of Chautauqua Lake froze over.

When I drove to Jamestown that morning, there was still some open water in the South Basin. When I drove home, around noon, the lower lake was a solid sheet of snow-covered ice.

On the other hand, up in the North Basin of the lake, where I live, there was still a lot of open water. The depth of the water there is deeper and so it takes more time for the ice to form.

On that same day, the lake in front of our house was inundated by water fowl of all types. They were clustered in groups of ducks, coots, sea gulls and, of course, geese. The ice had eliminated their habitat in the South Basin and they had moved north to find open water.

Birds never seem to like to leaving the lake. They hang around, I guess, hoping that somehow the ice build-up will stop and their open-water habitat will remain. That is a false hope, of course, because it is just a matter of time before the whole lake becomes ice covered.

I had a “bird’s eye” view of all of this because I was deeply ensconced in another early winter exercise, trying to figure out a new jig-saw puzzle. That is another long-held lake ritual at our house, the annual onset of which seems to come at about the same time of year that the ice comes. I sit facing the lake with a table full of jig-saw puzzle pieces on a table in front of me, over which I can look up periodically, stare out the window and see what action might be happening out on the lake.

I think that all birds make some kind of noise, but the species that drowns out all the others are geese. They honk, they croak, they splash their wings in the water. The cacophony and noise of it all is so loud and pervasive that it penetrates the walls of the house.

In watching the geese, it reminded me a bit of the human experience I have had watching Democrats squabble at a convention. (I am one and have attended two national conventions.) There was always a lot of talking going on, sometimes people talking over other people; nonetheless, it was good natured disagreement with everyone waiting to figure out what to do next and who would lead them going forward.

Similarly, I can just hear the geese. “What happened down the lake?” “We can’t swim or feed there any longer.” “What should we do next?” “We just flew over Lake Erie, and it was open–maybe we should go back there.” “What do you think? Etc.” The next morning, they are still there, still yacking and making a racket, though some are now standing up to their knees on slightly submerged new ice being formed. Decision time is coming.

Finally, some old goose who has been down the flyway before steps up and says: “Follow me — we’re going south!” And, off they go, as disciplined in a formation as any bird can be, heading south for open water. Common sense, old experience –call it what you want — it seems to happen every year just as the North Basin of the lake starts to freeze over.

When there is no open water, the geese are gone.

There doesn’t seem to be any great lesson of life here, though one could make a case that common sense and old experience aren’t so bad after all. It is always interesting when the ice comes. Welcome to winter on the lake!

Rolland Kidder is Stow resident.

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