The sound of gunshot at midnight

Ice forms on the Huron Bay

You awake at midnight, heart pounding.  Gunshot!  It resounds through the woods like the crack of a rifle.  Nervously you propel out of your warm flannel sheets to investigate.

Crack!  Again it resounds.  You open the deck door and listen. 

Suddenly you know what it is.

An angel reflected in ice

Down on the bay, on cold December or January nights, the ice cracks like gunshot.  The mystery of its forming and re-forming, its plates building pressure and rubbing against one another, often results in a booming sound.  Sometime it peels sharp like gunshot.  Other times it booms like canons.

A quarter mile away it can wake you from light sleep.  If you’re sleeping deep, you’ll never hear it.  If you happen to be prowling around the property like a night owl you’ll think fireworks crackle in the distance. 

Until you remember.  Ahhh….it’s the ice.


My ice fishing husband tells stories about the sounds ice makes.  He says you can be sitting in the tent, minding your own fishing line, swapping tales with your fishing partner when…whirrrrrr!….crack….like a knife the sound of ice splitting screams from one side of the bay to the other.

He has witnessed a crack split the ice between himself and his fishing partner.  In an instant.  Like rumbling lightning and thunder. 

I’m not kidding.

Some people refuse to ice fish because they know the ice is alive.  And it talks.

The tectonic plates of ice talking to one another

I really don’t know the science of ice.  Why it speaks the language it does.  What that language means.  I know it’s a language of pressure.  Of two plates grinding together, or perhaps separating.  Perhaps it’s the pressure of things forming and pushing apart simultaneously.

The first time I walked on deep clear ice I whimpered.  Real fear almost refused to move the legs.  “I…will…not…do…this,” I repeated through clenched teeth, although I kept moving with my husband’s encouragement.  It wasn’t pleasant. It was downright scary.

Last winter when we fished out on ice over 220 feet of water, surrounded by dozens of other fishermen, no nervousness existed.  Go figure.  We humans, I always repeat, are strange creatures.  As strange as ice.

Stone protrudes from frozen clear ice

I loved the way these stones protruded from the ice a couple mornings ago.  The ice almost looks like water.  Almost like you could place your hand in the freezing silky wetness.  But, no.  Ice covers the end of the Huron Bay, except for fringe edges.  The ice is gaining in speed and intensity and bulk.  Every day it thickens.

As above, so below

The fishermen talk of whitefish and trout and salmon and burbot and smelt.  Green dots of ice tents sprinkle across the head of the Keweenaw Bay.  My husband and our friend Nancy (one of his fishing partners) ask:  “Are you coming ice fishing this year?” 

I don’t know.  Depends on how much the ice is talking.  How many inches forms.  How much I’ve been scared by the sound of ice booming at midnight…

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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24 Responses to The sound of gunshot at midnight

  1. Martha Bergin says:

    Fascinating blog, Kathy! Just amazing! A very interesting subject. We who live in the desert can only try to imagine!

    • Kathy says:

      Martha, I would so very much love to walk in the desert and listen to desert sounds. Too bad we couldn’t trade for at least a day. Someday I would like to return to the desert…

  2. CRD says:

    I heard a gunshot in LA last weekend. Shopkeepers nonchalantly stepped out of their shops to see what was up. I didn’t think people were taking it seriously enough. It seems like a good parallel to your story…

    • Kathy says:

      CRD, are you suppose to tell your mother stories like this? Gunshots near where you were?? Although I suppose it is kind of parallel to this story. Stay safe…

  3. Kathy, I remember the ice reports when I lived on a lake in Maine. The ice froze very deep and fast that year. We walked out on the lake, for fun, and to pester the ice fishermen, who are very sociable, and don’t mind the company. That clear ice is trippy! And how about when you step onto cloudy ice and your foot goes through! an inch! cause a thin sheet of ice formed over an air pocket or a puddle on the thick ice which later drained away before freezing. That was heart-stopping!
    I love standing in the middle of the lake in winter. Cold though.

    • Kathy says:

      I love your ice story, Carla! Ice fishermen are very very sociable, indeed. I have never fallen through cloudy ice. Once Barry’s friend was walking along and fell in a crack up to his hip. He went home. If I fell in a crack…that might be the LAST ice fishing trip! Although standing in the middle of the lake in winter is so cool.

  4. Dawn says:

    I grew up on an inland lake. Some winters it froze fast and clear, that was so cool! We could skate all over! That wasn’t typical though. Mostly it snowed and froze rough. But the years it was clean and smooth and clear? Priceless!

    • Kathy says:

      Dawn, every once in a while the lake around here freezes fast and clear. But that is so infrequent. I’ll bet you will carry those precious memories with you for a long time.

  5. Dawn says:

    I’ve never lived where it get’s cold enough every winter to make thick ice – so your experiences are so interesting. The ice around the rocks looks like the rock is in a thick syrup.

    You were brave to ice fish last year… I’m not sure I’d do it twice 🙂 but have fun if you do!

    • Kathy says:

      Oh I am glad you are enjoying these ice stories and photos. I had not thought of it as looking as if the ice are in thick syrup, but it does indeed. I did go ice fishing twice last year…still remaining undecided about this year. If I do it will be for the blog. Like “Remember the Alamo!” It’s liek “Remember the blog!” LOL.

  6. Cindy Lou says:

    I remember the first time I was ice-fishing on an inland lake and one of those pressure cracks went off like a shot. Jen and Ricky were young and my first thought was “Get my kids off this ice! Now!” I go smelt fishing off the marina but only after the ice is thick enough for a pick-up to drive out there! Very cool photos – the ‘rocks in syrup’ are fabulous!

    • Kathy says:

      Cindy I would have been right behind you, getting the kids off the ice. I think it takes awhile for us to get comfortable out there. Maybe some of us never do… By the way, did you see those pickup trucks at the head of the bay? A little soon, I was thinking!

  7. fountainpen says:

    The Ohio River froze over in 1977 or 1978….and there is the story of the human being who drove a VW onto the ice……we human beings are indeed strange.

    The stones in ice reminded me of two things: First: icebergs! How much of the iceberg is submerged and much larger than the part that presents itself…and of course, I thought of the Titanic.

    Second: I thought of trauma or anything that has happened to a person and only partially shows up, or is exposed, in a mannerism, through the eyes, in a short response… much more of the trauma or pain is submerged….

    The pictures call me to reflect on unexposed trauma within human beings….possibly how deep, how unexposed…..

    What mystery, Kathy……thank you….Also, at first, I thought perhaps it was a real gunshot….of deer hunters…or some wild person in the UP woods and I feared for your safety……

    Only once have I watched trees cracking at the base and falling….It was an awesome sound…..and iced over limbs….that sounded like tiny bells as they brushed up against each other……Only once!!!


    • Kathy says:

      Fountainpen, fascinating thoughts. I, too, have read about icebergs being mostly underwater. And connecting that too human pain and suffering which can be way below the surface. How sometimes it takes a lifetime to be present with a person until enough trust gains to allow that submerged trauma to come to the surface, when and if its ready.

      The sound of tiny bells on limbs must have been incredible. I can almost here them, all these miles and years away. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Gerry says:

    Really good photo sequence, Kathy! The booming of spring breakup is one of my favorite sounds. The sharp reports of the January thaw not so much . . . But ah, in summer, the sound of ice cubes cracking as I fill a glass with nice cool water, that is a lovely sound indeed.

    • Kathy says:

      Ahhh, ice cubes crackign in a glass with nice cool water…I believe I’m thirsty! It is a lovely sound indeed. Gerry, I’ll bet you hear many sounds as Lake Michigan ice booms and reports.

  9. Catherine says:

    Is anyone else gleaning sensuality and desire out these last 3 or so blogs or is it just me???

  10. flandrumhill says:

    How cool Kathy! I’ve heard the ice murmuring in the marsh already this winter, but there hasn’t been any shouting in the middle of the night as there seems to be in your neck of the woods.

    My sister in Northern Ontario was just telling me this weekend of her ice fishing fears. In the Arctic, truckers drive their rigs across frozen water until the spring thaw. I would have thought it safe to walk or drive across ice if it’s thick enough, until I read this post. How can anyone predict where the tectonic ice plates are going to shift and create a crack?

    • Kathy says:

      Amy, I never heard this kind of ice racket until we moved next to Lake Superior. On other lakes it was more like that murmuring. As for those ice cracks, usually they crack very small. Big enough for a leg to fall through, but not an entire human body or a pickup truck. I think. Luckily Barry doesn’t drive his truck on the ice.

  11. I’ve a total horror of even the thought of standing on ice over water. No, it’s not me. I’m not much better with quayside’s, pontoons, locks and docks either!

    • Kathy says:

      I’ll have to remember to come shouting if and when I go out on the ice this year, Mrs. Uhdd. Yet I understand and sympathize with your horror…

  12. Quietpaths says:

    Very interesting read. I wouldn’t ice fish either but some people love it. I don’t think the Lake likes the constrictions its ice blanket.

    • Kathy says:

      Christine, good question. I wonder whether the Lake likes the ice or not? That is such an interesting thought. I will ask it next time I’m down there… LOL!

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