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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

February 1999

Frozen in ice, captured in words: Oak leaves inspire a contemplation of winter. © Richard Hamilton Smith Frozen in ice, captured in words: Oak leaves inspire a contemplation of winter. © Richard Hamilton Smith Frozen in ice, captured in words: Oak leaves inspire a contemplation of winter. © Richard Hamilton Smith

Leaves in ice

The last outing of the ice-fishing season took an artful turn.

Jim Bishop, Jr.


Frozen in ice, captured in words: Oak leaves inspire a contemplation of winter.

© Richard Hamilton Smith

The south wind swept around me in a warm caress this last day of February. This was it. One last chance to grab my tip-ups and jig poles and head out across the ice to an open, uncluttered space. The northern pike season would close today until the opening weekend in May, and I felt drawn to my favorite lake that had given up a fish or two during the hard-water season. Out here I had savored many sunrises, and a few sunsets (when the fishing was really slow). All the trips had been enjoyable.

On this last trip I noticed the oak leaves. They had caught the late winter sun and their warm brown hues had trapped just enough heat to melt ice and emboss the leaves into clear pools on the frozen waterway.

By the time winter days dawn, most leaves have had enough. Maple, birch and aspen leaves fall early, but oaks hold on to the bitter end. Here, they held tight through November gales and pelting snow, but were finally shaken free by some fierce arctic blast and tossed from their former loft.

Most fallen leaves took refuge on some distant shore. A few stayed, lying like sunbathers nestled into the winter sands of a silver beach. They were scattered about everywhere I looked and each had its own character. Some shone softly, like bronze medals on a general's coat. Others flashed like gold emblems on crystalline glass. A few were weathered and etched in the ice by an unseen sculptor.

Random chaos or nature's palette? A bit of both, I think.

My walking pace slowed as I continued to examine this icy canvas. I stopped and left my tip-ups and ice drill behind. It was my camera, not my jig poles, which bobbed slightly as I clicked away, noting each leafy detail that would soon melt from this brief mural.

It was a fine display of winter light and color. The sun reflected a million mirrors of warmth from the fragmented ice and patchy snow. The sky was an intense blue behind and above a vast tree-studded shoreline.

I was grateful for this moment in time, the small brown leaves and the unseen fish that had lured me onto this magnificent easel.

Jim Bishop, Jr. is the Public Affairs Manager for DNR's Northern Region in Spooner.