Three Things from Edmonton - Episode 45: frazil ice, feet, spectacle


The little Three Things podcast is where each week I try to notice three things that I noticed that made me happy or grateful. Not the biggest things in the world, just things like:

1. Frazil Ice 🧊 🥘

In the days before the North Saskatchewan River freezes, it blooms with floating ice pads. These are those short days, and the mosaic pieces of ice are called frazil pans.  Frazil, F-R-A-Z-I-L, what a great word, the F-R of freeze and frigid and fragile, the shard of the Z, and the way the L lingers and trails off like in the words gentle and beautiful and peaceful. My hydrologist friend Steffen can explain how frazil ice forms at northern latitudes when the atmospheric conditions and heat exchanges are conducive to its making. I phoned Steffen at his ice-free retirement home and we talked ice. I asked him if he missed frazil ice. 

“I definitely miss them,” he said from Ladysmith, BC. “I loved going onto the Terwillegar footbridge and just watching them go by. It’s quite hypnotic, mesmerizing.”

On the 142 Street Bridge over the MacKinnon Ravine are irregular-shaped sandy, stony test patches where the sidewalk had worn out.  The look of them reminds me of frazil pans. I see frazil ice in the giant mosaic panels from the old post office now outside the museum downtown.

They’re in the river of Erin’s giant 3-D four season mosaic on the wall at the airport.

Auntie Shelagh made lemon zest martinis last week and as she cooly returned her cocktail glass to the table, the click and jingle of the ice reminded me of frazil pans, if the river valley could be thought of as a big container to drink from, or, at least, to drink in, which it is.

For a good minute last week I stopped pedalling and stood on the riverbank, the water lit red by the morning sun, and watched the bejewelled water flow by carrying frazil pieces of my shattered-by-beauty heart.

2.  My feet 👣 🎶

Riding a bicycle is poetry in motion. I have my friend Laurie to thank for this insight. Years ago she sent me an unforgettable text message. She was back from a ride on her new bike, and was feeling the joy when she composed these seven words I know by heart:

I feel so frickin’ free on this :) :) :)


¯ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯  ˘ ¯
I feel so frickin’ free on this

“I feel so frickin’ free on this” is what riding a bicycle is about. It’s the music of riding a bicycle. A spondee and three iambs in that text message, right? Stressed syllable-stressed syllable, then three units of an unaccented followed by an accented syllable. Poetic feet are part of the factory under the floorboards of any poem. They are how a poem means. Rhythm is a companion of bicycle riders, too, as they foot out up-downs up-downs on the cranks.

Laurie’s text came back to mind as I glanced down to my feet on a routine ride in the neighbourhood last week, and realized one of the truths of riding a bicycle is how compact the experience is. I mean, the person doing the labor below is the same person feeling the freedom above. You never forget that harmony.

You never forget how to ride a bike like you never forget a favourite verse, the music is in you. Thanks, Laur.

3. A spectacle 🏟️

The sound of Commonwealth Stadium igniting at minus 11 degrees Celsius (windchill -16, wind gusts of up to 17 km/h) after the Men’s National soccer team netted the winning goal in a historic victory over Mexico is now in my memory’s museum of sound.

The game was a lot of things. It was numbing to again be at a live outdoor sporting event. It was theatre. Walking through the concrete cave of the concourse and then out into the open of the stadium bowl to see below the rectangle of green field with its white lines—that journey from the wings to the decorated stage, bravo! We bought beers because nobody was in line. That was a lark.

The sound of shovels being worked to scrape off snow from the seats, that was new. Renewed was my dislike of booing, whether sent the way of the visiting team or the ref for no reason other than they were others. I’m no fan of crowds or mobs and what they feel like up close at the best of times. But fans are performers, and, hey, I’ve been in those seats, too.

Better now to watch the moon move along the cables of the giant speaker over the field, better to remember taking our sons to the Heritage Classic, already 18 years ago this month, and better to watch Alphonso Davies glide across the field and to gaze farther north into the starry sky over 111th Avenue out to where he grew up and out. As Edmonton spectacles go, it was an Edmonton spectacle. The vintage Edmonton sound of mitted clapping both conveyed and generated warmth.


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