Ice Floes in Rib River Booming out over the Marathon County Region, the Rib River broke its chilly bonds of ice with a roar and thunder. Huge cakes of ice skittered along the open surface of the Mighty Rib. Fed with the mountain streams of Western Wisconsin, the melting snows and the April rains, this stream, swollen to flood tide, climbed up over the banks, spilling down on muddy torrents toward Lake Wisconsin. Our bank, however, managed to survive the spring floods, due chiefly to the stout redoubtable jetty built last summer and fall by the clerics. Chunks of swooshing ice jarred it, rammed it, slammed it, but except for surface damage, it still stands, shunting the current of the Rib away from the weakly upholstered bank.
This undated entry from the House Chronicle in early April 1951 piqued this Chronicler’s interest because Tracy recently found huge cakes of ice littering the banks of the Rib River. He had gone out to do his homework for a photography class. In 1951, the roar and thunder signaled the arrival of the ice floes; if it happened this year, we did not notice. The waters of the Mighty Rib never got close to the banks this year, either, due to below-average snowfall and very little spring rain. Another difference is the ice floes appeared about a month earlier this year than in 1951.
What is striking, though, even in 2021, is the size of these cakes of ices and the potential for damage they carry with them. We can only imagine the size and power of the ice floes if this winter had brought normal temperatures to Marathon, or if normal precipitation in Northern Wisconsin had caused the Rib River to rise to flood stage.
When someone sits on a bench at the bank of the Mighty Rib and listens to the soothing sounds of its rippling waters, the roar and thunder of ice floes do not readily come to mind. In 2021, we were able to marvel at the beauty of this phenomenon of nature without risking any of the dire consequences ice floes could bring. Yet both are part of the reality of the river, and these ice floes remind us we are challenged to accept the paradox, to accept both the beauty and harshness of nature.
Paradoxes are a part of all reality: childbirth brings both joy and pain; fire is both beautiful and dangerous; relationships bring both love and loss; our physical bodies allow us to experience both pleasure and pain; our very existence, and that of all living things, includes both birth and death. We do not have the power to choose only the “good”, the positive, the enjoyable parts of reality. We are challenged to accept ALL of reality, as it is, not as we would like it to be.
For all the paradoxes of reality, and for the challenge to learn how to accept and embrace reality as it is, we say Deo Gratias!