How icicles, having formed on a cold winter day, inspired awe in three different ways in a scholar, a naturalist, and a scrub jay; and how a passionate lesson on their form and formation led to a greater understanding for all three; and of the magical power of Nature to stir the emotions and the mind and to bridge the sensitivities of three disparate hearts; and in what manner The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the work of Dr. Stephen Morris influenced this ballad.
It is a new-formed icicle,
And it stumpeth one of three…
‘With thy notebook and probing eye,
What do you want with me?
I’ve hiked for miles and finally found,
These mighty frozen cones;
I wish to admire their beauty,
And ponder their unknowns.’
The scholar grabed the naturalist,
‘I’ve the answers!’ quoth he.
‘Let go of me and hold thy tongue,
You’ll spoil the mystery!’
The scholar flamed with a passion,
That could not be denied.
And so the naturalist gave in,
Letting science preside.
The naturalist sat on a rock,
And pulled a bur from off his sock,
And shrugged, resigned, to a scrub,
Who squawked in doubt of both,
And flew up to a branch above,
To hear the scholar’s oath.
‘I’ve studied icicles for years,
In my Toronto home –
Their form and growth and chemistry –
And made an online tome.
Till now no one could really say
How their form came to be.
Now the whole world can understand
And it’s because of me.’
The naturalist here rolled his eyes.
The scrub prepared to fly.
‘Wait! I don’t do this for glory!
That’s not what I imply!
I’ve always been a curious man,
Is what I mean to say.
When all the rest sought linear,
I sought the everyday.
I see wonderment in Nature,
I’m drawn to the phenomena
that have not been explained.’
This note of awe had more to say
To the naturalist and the jay;
More attuned with their own belief
In the joy of the outdoors.
So they again lent him their ears,
To hear of his explores.
‘Icicles obey no theory
That can predict their shape.
Like you I was perplexed by them;
A secret to undrape.
And so I set about to find
The truth behind their trick.
I knew that once I saw them grow,
The rest of it would click.
The first problem that I faced was
finding a specimen.
Nature does not hold icicles
Among her natural yen.
Ice, Ice everywhere,
And all the water frozen tight;
Ice, Ice everywhere,
Nor any icicles in sight.
It seems that while they can be wild,
At caves or waterfalls,
Icicles tend to mainly grow
Where humans build their walls.
In order to make icicles,
the water needs to drip.
This criterion is oft met,
At rooftop’s hanging lip.’
At this the naturalist cried out,
‘What is this nonsense all about?
You ought just credit man with scrubs,
For they come flitting out,
When we put up nest boxes,
Or strew some seed about!’
To which the scrub clicked his rattle,
As if to emphasize,
The magic found within a scrub
Is formed in Nature’s eyes.
‘I understand.’ the scholar said.
‘I too thought black and white.
To tease out Nature with Science,
Felt too vain to be right.
But to find what I was after,
I went inside the lab;
To build a box that would let me,
Give ice-making a stab.
The box I made with Styrofoam,
Kept as chilled as the snow.
Then I slowly dripped some water,
And made icicles grow.
The tips grow faster than the sides,
Since as a droplet falls,
It steals some heat and cools the tip,
Where ice forms at its walls.
This progression made scientists
Believe in an ideal;
A perfect, long and pointy shape
That all icicles heal.
But wild icicles never take
That smooth, idyllic form.
Their surface grows in rippled waves,
Evenly spaced, the norm.
I found the difference in shape and
Between lab and wild, was salt and
I also found that they need air,
Flowing along all sides,
For when I made them in still air,
The pointy end divides.
With all these facts I plainly see
How they’ve fooled the many,
‘Cause icicles seem simple things,
But they’ve traits a plenty.’
Here the scrub and the naturalist
Toward the icicles turned,
And saw them in a new-found light
With the knowledge they’d learned;
They found they loved them more,
And their allegiance swore
To Science they had spurned.
Looking back, they found the scholar
Appearing rather glum.
The naturalist asked, ‘Why so sad?’
To which the scholar said, ‘How come?
My brain rejoiced at having solved
The riddle of the cone.
But the fact that I used science,
My heart could not condone.
It somehow felt anathema
To viewing life with glee,
And I perceived a wall rise up
Between Nature and me.
Ah! Every day what evil thoughts
I cast about my mind.
The guilt hung heavy round my neck;
I was a man maligned.’
The scholar railed his turpitude,
But the naturalist and the jay
Felt a different attitude and,
Were both surprised to find they felt
In an absolving mood,
They wished to separate the man
From the guilt that he’d been glued.
‘I can’t believe I’m saying this,’
Began the naturalist,
‘But I do believe you’re chiding
With much too hard a fist.
For I’ve always found wonder in
An icicle display,
But never felt as close to them,
As you’ve made me this day.
Your facts don’t make me feel apart,
From Nature’s frozen gift!
Instead they make me marvel more
And thereby mend the rift!
I realize that what you chased,
Was still the purity,
Of Nature’s marvelous outdoors,
That Science helped to see!’
At this the scrub took flight,
Swooped high, swooped wide, swooped low,
Then he swooped round the icicles,
In a grateful show.
The scholar stood there watching them
With a glistening in his eye.
The vindication that he felt,
Enough to make him cry.
‘Thank you both for showing me that
What you say is true.
Emphasizing miracles is
The point of what I do.
Those who adore the outdoors best,
Know Mother Nature’s due.
For she who makes things beautiful,
Makes them intricate, too.’
The clouds grew thin, the sun came out,
The air began to warm,
The icicles, they realized,
Were soon to lose their form.
So they all three sat together,
And watched the melt display.
The icicles gleamed beautifully,
And slowly dripped away.
The two men sat in silence, rapt
by the ephemerality
Of one of Nature’s mighty works,
To just be seen by three.
Considering the details of
The two men swelled with gratitude
For how lucky they’d been.
They loveth most that knowest more
Both thinker and lover and bird
For while Nature grabs our feelings,
Perception gets them stirred.
The two men went their separate ways,
And promised to stay close.
A bond of wisdom linked them now,
Like an anastomose.
The scrub flew up back to his home,
Among the evergreens.
The night air made more icicles,
More than the man’s machines.
They hung heavy from the needles,
And grew long from the limbs,
Icicles in the mountains seemed
One of Her constant whims.
The jay knew where to find them
On any given day.
How to expertly define them,
He really couldn’t say.
But he knew that there was danger
In the bite of their points.
And he knew his face looked funny,
In all their wavy joints.
And he knew that if he waited,
The sun would melt them down,
And they’d soon give him water when
No other was around.
But the day among the men
Was not wholly without fault.
Although the jays had always known
Ice when it was runny
Tasted kind of funny
He gloated now ‘cause he alone
Could say that it was salt!
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