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A week ago during one of the between-snow-event pauses, I looked out my big window and saw a ship. As it was not large enough, the wrong shape, and closer to shore than I’d expect a bulk carrier, I thought the vessel might be one of the cutters. It was. This time from the U.S. Coast Guard, a departure from the Canadian cutters I’ve seen in the past. At first I thought it strange that the cutter appeared to be moving fairly slow. Then it occurred to me that you don’t have to be especially quick to catch ice. Ice takes its time. On land, ice move very slowly if at all. It does not act much different on water. No account says an iceberg charged the Titanic. So it made sense. Why rush when the ice wasn’t going anywhere? Ice doesn’t fear time. Sun and warm temperatures are another matter, but when it comes to marking time, ice is as timeless as a kid who was supposed to take the garbage out yesterday.
A few days later, during another gap in the storm-fury parade, I saw another “something” where the cutter had been days before. This sighting was a little closer in but about the same length as the cutter. It stood out looking like a long rectangular block with a darker block at one end. Unable to tell what it was, I got out Father’s old binoculars. I’d used them on the cutter for confirmation. In this case they were basic to figuring out what the shape was that rode so distinctly in a slow-moving (remember, that’s what ice does) field of white ice. It was an appealing and puzzling sight. I watched long enough to conclude it was a natural formation where a sheet of ice had become tipped up with a raised edge defining the line of a hull. I’d never seen anything like that before. Most of you would have been smart enough to get your phone out. That’s where we differ. I rarely think of capturing an image until the “why didn’t I think of that” phase says it’s too late.
I’m sure the “something” I saw was a natural phenomenon not unlike the perfectly round ice circles that on occasion turn my little bay into a collection of round white blossoms around four feet in diameter. It looks artificial but is natural. Ice rounds are so like crop circles that I’ve been tempted to grasp fame by reporting them as such. Most of you would figure out right away that they are not of alien origin, and that given the right wave and currents, flat sections of drifting ice gradually lose their sharp corners as they erode into circular shapes. To become famous for ice crop circles, I’d need to take pictures, but I’ve already explained how that’s not going to happen. But to tell the truth, a lot of what I see in the far distance as I look across the big lake isn’t something that can be seen or shown in an image.
From my window I sometimes see as far away as Tarnow Poland, a small city that was once predominantly Jewish. The peasant Poles lived in the countryside. If I said ghetto, right away you’d get a different slant on the separation that kept the groups apart. The division was more than religious, but because belief was a factor, the separation wasn’t without friction and resentment. Fascism changed that by codifying the hostility into policy backed up by enforcement action. By the end of WWII, the Jews (except in the form of smoke and ash drifting in from places like Auschwitz) were largely gone from the region. The Nazis destroyed the synagogue, but the central area where scripture was kept is still visible. Like the mirage of an ice ship on Lake Superior, it is difficult to recreate more than hints at the many lives that once thrived and were later snuffed or scattered after leaving that place.
My view across open water sometimes takes me to Namur in Belgium. In the citadel or some part of the old fortifications of that town, a photo was taken that I saw years later labeled as “German Soldiers Taking Prisoners at Namur.” The immediate surrounds show signs of heavy fighting. There are several groups of soldiers. One group (I’m no longer positive of all the details, being unable to locate the old photo) has a captive standing with arms raised. Even from a distance, his face appears anguished, and even from a distance you can see that the face is that of a boy too young to be a soldier. His ill-fitting uniform says the same. I’d like to know the story of what happened there. What was the fate of those taken captive? That early in the war, why was a boy in uniform? There has to be a story, but it is as elusive to give in detail as are my notes on the speed of a Coast Guard cutter heading “slowly” toward the Twin Ports.
The view across open water invites looking far. Some days I see all the way to Istanbul, where the Struma was taken for humanitarian relief. With almost 800 refugees it left Romania, which at the time was as vigorous about getting rid of the unwanted as was its Nazi model. The Struma with failed engine was towed into port to be held under guard. For a month, two, almost three, it sat with nothing being done. Even a minimal supply of food and water was made difficult because Turkish policy toward Jews wasn’t much better than for Armenians—peoples unwanted based on their faith and identity. The Turks weren’t alone. The British didn’t want the refugees in Palestine, so they sat back to await developments. This came when the Turkish humanitarian effort towed the Struma out of port and left it to drift. One person survived out of near 800. He, when it was too late for all the others, was given permission to go to Palestine. Sometimes looking into the past shows things we’d rather not see, which are also things we dare not forget.