The Ice Cutter

by David Birchman

III.   Scraping

When the ice was thick enough for operations to begin it was scraped, if covered with snow, and, if rough and wavy on the surface it was sometimes planed.  When the snow continued to fall the ice was often scraped six to eight times.

        Years later, in those moments before the surgical team arrived, the ice cutter's son watched while the nurse shaved off his father's body hair.

IV.   Marking-off

After scraping, the field was lined off into squares.  Two straight lines were run, as in land surveying, at right angles to each other, a surveyor's theodolite being the best instrument for the purpose.  More lines were then cut at right angles to the first line until the whole surface resembled a checker board.

        The ice cutter knew that at the inception of any well though out operation there always had to be a basic geometry at work -- a marking up, a sectoring off.  Even the men who pillaged the new world required their Mercator.

V.   Ice Plow

The ice plow was constructed on the same principle as the marker only no guides were necessary.  Its object was to cut the ice field to about two-thirds the depth of the ice into cakes and blocks which were then detached by pikes and floated off.  The plow was pulled by a team with about ten feet of tug rope.

        Had he come across the simple riddle in the paper he would have passed it by and gone on to the Katzenjammer Kids:  "What plows, but does not plant?  What reaps, but does not sow?  What steel knocks at the maidenhead but makes no breach?"

        Some mornings he snarled that it was colder than a witch's cunt, but he never considered the metaphor.

VI.  Ice Saws

Ice saws four to five feet long were used to open channels and separate sheets from the fields.

        The ice cutter's son sat in the warm school house and thought about his father toiling on the lake.  He thought about the rattling wind and the deafening open silence; about the near-frozen water reaching out to soak mittens and clasp wrists; about the sharp painful air that took a man's breath away.  he thought about his father bent over an ice saw working as hard as he thought a man could work, his lips pursed in a perpetual whistle.  Sometimes no sound came out, but there it was.


More of this story may be found in volume III of Moorpark Review.