After last week’s wintery cold wind storm ice formations along the shore make an ordinary and routine drive more beautifully interesting. Coast Guard Point in Grand Marias wears a heavy layer of white. For a while a portion of highway near the harbor was also getting iced as some of the bigger waves made their way through the entry and were boosted ashore by kicking gusts. The big lake is a specialist in spectaculars. Instead of making pack ice stretching for miles on the open water this spring the ice came on land in a cake decorating effect that is attractive to the eye but treacherous underfoot. Had the recent wind storm hit as others in the past have done pushing sheets of pack ice toward land we’d have had icy mountains along the shore. At times past the piles grew tall enough to obscure sight of the water so it looked as if some immense ice making machine had crept along the perimeter of the lake dropping gouts of cubes like a hotel ice maker on a scale of extreme overabundance. There’d be enough piled ice for God-knows how many winter carnivals or supply a metro area with beverage ice to last a year or two.

The attractions of ice is like the blush of youth; bound to slip away as thaw like age does its slow and steady work of reduction to gaunt bones. I don’t mean that last sentence in a sappy sense. I mean time and condition reveal things about basic nature. The impact of ice sheets bulldozing the shore was a different result from waves splashing around. Waves are more generally active and get most of the notice, but the real terra formers are the sheets of ice plowing ledge rock into grit and pushing car size boulders as if they were childhood Legos. On occasion an unwary person will think what fun it might be to joust with lake storm forces. Those who test this will find, sometimes fatally, the energy in a storm is magnitudes above and beyond what they can handle. Waves that can transport weighty rocks with their rolling beat will simply batter a human body into unconsciousness and death.

Competing with lake ice this year are inland mini glaciers. This is not rare, but this season there seems to be somewhat more of that than usual. On a recent visit to a property I once lived on I found a glacial flow forming a slick shiny barrier far beyond anything I’d seen in my decades living there. This is a reminder that we can go along for decades and feel quite secure thinking a particular thing is the norm only to be taken up short when nature does something unexpected to upset our little cart of prejudices and assumptions. Two generations ago a person living along the North Shore would have thought the smelt run a permanent feature. Smelt were so plentiful they’d spawn along stretches of beach in addition to nightly filling every creek and river with their nature driven surge of spawning energy. Smelt to be sold were literally pumped from some rivers. Today a smelt net is something of an oddity with no particular use other than as a reminder of what was.

The human slip slide through the forces of social nature is no less dramatic or predictable than the energies of nature let loose on a rocky shore or the birthing of a mini glacier along a roadway to create a travel snare. “To everything there is a season” is trite but at times the expression fits rather well what’s going on. The usual reactions are to grab a camera to “capture” the leaping wave or “catch” the ice form image in pixels before it’s gone. Or we get out a mechanical pick axe to discourage the roadside glacier we’ll further beat to submission with grit and salt. How many who ogle an ice form and take its image home will return the next day and next for a year to slow build an understanding of what the forces of nature did, what they leave behind as evidence, and what these clues might mean? For the most part (and I do understand how doing so is rather natural) we human observers skip along the superficial peaks with the happy thought we thereby know all about plate tectonics. If it were only so and we could reach understanding of earth worms by admiring the clouds.

To understand a thing in nature or society needs more than an assumption of mastery of content via the high points. The quick scan is easier and more rewarding than the dull grind of repetition needed to grind away at the data of understanding. A person does not become versed on a subject large as Lake Superior by taking a delight in waves or ice formations. In the same way a person is not necessarily knowledgeable using a high visibility word such as Nazi to supposedly define and characterize others. In my experience the person who bandies Nazi on their eager lips has almost no chance being able to tell me Nazi was a short term for National Socialist which was itself a short form of NSDAP which had an lengthily expressed code and agenda beginning with Mein Kampf. A person using the word could know that if they took the time and were interested in understanding rather than the (for them) convenient use of labels. I read (amazingly, my small town library had copies) of Mein Kampf and Das Kapital; each a long and boring slog for a fifteen year old. I doubt I got but a fraction, but I ended reading being damn sure there was more to both of those politics than fits a label.

Those who employ Nazi like a Facebook ID might benefit from considering how they cheapen the meaning of Nazism by splashing it like cheap toilet water on everything they think stinks. I can take them to a place I’ve visited where the result of real Nazism spreads for miles in all directions and the final dust of three million plus murdered is silent testimony of the need to act based on tested knowledge rather than the latest version of Heil enthusiasm.