March 01, 2012

The Ice Has Broken

The Ice Has Broken
Nikolai Gernet

As the old saying has it, you can never tire of watching fire, water and other people working. Northerners would also add that you can look endlessly at ice drifting down a river. Many people take days off work or travel back to their birthplaces for the sake of this captivating spectacle, while still others head down to the river during their lunch break or go for a stroll along the bank on the way home in the evening.

At this time of year you can often catch sight of seals, which are also pleased to welcome the spring sunshine and happily pose for photographs. One of them managed to live in a creek alongside the Arkhangelsk Yacht Club for a week or so, taking food virtually from the hands of Arkhangelskites. It became a genuine local celebrity.

Announcements advertising May-time marches to meet the ice appear on city websites, and there’s a tradition of betting on the day when the bulk of the ice will appear – a sort of sweepstakes for groups of tipsy friends. And although the real meaning of all the rituals associated with the drifting ice has now long been forgotten, centuries ago the opening-up of the rivers was a tremendous event for inhabitants of the North. It was associated with the arrival of spring and the reawakening of nature – meaning winter had surrendered and the circle of life could resume its natural course once again.

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