Sunday, February 23, 2014

Visiting the Ice Caves: A Parody

Note:  This post is dedicated to all those who did not go anywhere exciting or exotic over break!

During mid-winter break last week, I was hoping to get out to the Ice Caves along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, but my timing and the weather never quite matched up. I imagine some of you got there; I know Ellie P did, because she blogged about it, and Eric D did also. One of my former students, Jamie Falk, class of 2001, also blogged about his expedition to the Caves. Another former student, Martha (Langager) Klopp, class of 2002, included some pictures of her family visiting the Caves in her latest blog post.  If the Polar Vortexes keep coming our way, maybe the Caves will still be accessible over Spring Break... 

Sign of spring!  Paphiopedilum Pinocchio, which I bought 6 months
ago as a baby now has a bud.  It should look similar to Queen Vic
& bloom just as often.  
But I'm getting a bit tired of winter now, so I'm actually hoping I've missed all my chances! I've got spring fever. You may have noticed that the days are getting longer now, so there is some hope that all this snow will melt, impossible as that may seem right now.  

While I didn't get out to the Apostle Islands, I did catch up on some domestic chores I'd been putting off.  I have an almost prehistoric refrigerator, made back in the days when appliances were built to last a lifetime, and it's so old that the freezer has to be defrosted a couple times a year (modern freezers don't accumulate a layer of ice and frost inside that needs to be removed).  I imagine many of you are young enough that you've never even heard of such a thing--consider such primitive fridges as siblings of the manual typewriter and the rotary telephone. Eventually, an undefrosted freezer can prevent the entire refrigerator from working properly, so it's something I have to do--but I hate doing it.  

What follows is a description of the soon-to-be ancient and obsolete art of defrosting a freezer. (And yet, who knows? As a college student, you could end up renting a place with just such a fridge in it, and you might actually need to know how to do this...Most of the small fridges folks have in dorm rooms need defrosting.)  

This task is not difficult, and it only takes about an hour, but it does require some advance planning--I have only a very small cooler in which to stash any frozen food that's still in the freezer on defrosting day. (A student suggested I could just stash the frozen food in a snowbank, but in my neighborhood that might not be wise...)
View of the Main Cave--ice formations this thick occur only
during the coldest winters! 

So a few weeks ahead of time, I start using up all the odds and ends in the freezer (usually to make Hot Dish), and I stop buying anything else that's frozen (which is actually harder than it seems), until finally the freezer is empty enough to defrost.  

Dramatic stalactites like these in the west
corner of the Cave only form when
conditions are just right.  
What you need, after emptying the freezer and turning off the power to the refrigerator, is a hair-dryer, some rags (old bath towels work well), some large bowls or containers of some kind, and an hour to kill. An mp3 player, ear-buds, a water bottle, a smartphone or camera, and a snack are optional. Of course, make sure you are dressed appropriately for the conditions--it is winter, after all!

Cover the bottom of the empty freezer with rags, and then start shooting hot air at the ice. (Note:  using any sort of electrical appliance in the presence of dripping water is dangerous--so make sure water doesn't drip into the hair-dryer!) Be prepared to hold the hair-dryer in the same spot for at least twenty minutes before you see any progress.  (Stretching before you even start this task is a good idea!) You also want to stay hydrated--hence the need for the water bottle.  
Progress! The metal coil emerges from beneath the receding ice.  

This part gets tedious, so put those ear-buds in (the hair dryer gets really loud!) and make sure you have some good music to listen to (I recommend Bach's St Matthew Passion, but that's me...) or, at the very least, something to think about while you do this (like a semi-amusing blog post you're working on, maybe?). If your hair-dryer has cool, warm, and hot settings, make sure you're using the hottest setting--variable heat settings are a useful feature, found on good quality dryers. My brother, a rock and ice climber, always says that you need good-quality tools when you embark on even the simplest expedition. If your hand or arm gets tired, switch to the other one for a time. If you're taking photos of your visit, be aware that taking photos one-handed is a challenge, so make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground as you point and shoot.

As "spring" progresses, icicles become a greater threat to
inexperienced visitors.  
As more and more ice melts, you may want to place the storage containers on top of the rags to catch any falling ice chunks. Take a break now and then, or have a snack, but keep in mind that you'll need to blast hot air at the ice for a total of an hour if you're to have any chance of clearing the cave of ice. Resist any urges to pick at loosened ice formations with, say, a butter knife. You might damage the freezer coils or hurt yourself.  I have, in fact, cut myself doing this in the past (not with the butter knife, but with flying ice shards!).  Safety first!
Falling ice slabs are a common hazard!

Eventually, you may find you need to replace the water-soaked rags with dry ones. Be careful when you do this:  taking a large, water-logged rag from the freezer can be a messy job. At this point, you're also likely to encounter large falling ice chunks, like the ones at the left. Notice the plastic storage bins I'm using to catch water and falling ice. Keep your wits about you! But also make sure that you take a few minutes to reflect on the privilege of having seen such a rare sight!
Rare U-shaped ice chunk.

Soon, when all the ice melts off, you can dump the contents of the storage bins in the sink, remove the rags, wipe down the inside of the freezer, turn the fridge back on, and re-fill the freezer with the food from the cooler. And actually, a freezer stays unfrosted longer if it's rather full of food, so now is a good time to stock up again on frozen items.  
Clean, but rather empty...
--Good timing, too, as March is National Frozen Foods Month--seriously, it's a thing! There'll be lots of sales. And the next time I have to do this chore will be in the summer, when, if it's hot enough, I won't mind doing it so much…though summer brings its own challenges--the Ice Caves are only accessible then by kayak! So now the question is--chocolate or vanilla ice cream?  

There, I think I've just proven that I can write a post about (possibly) the most boring subject in the world! See? Everybody has something to blog about! If you end up blogging about your visit to the real Ice Caves, let me know, and I'll link to your post here.  

1 comment:

  1. This is hilarious! I've seen enough pictures of the ice caves this winter, but not nearly enough of freezers. I hope Duluth starts to undergo a similar transformation.. Thank you for the laugh!