Paul Doiron here—
The other day, while I was driving, I noticed a person standing on a half-frozen pond. I have no idea what he was doing out there, but the first ice of the winter seems to do strange things to people. Maybe it’s the seasonal novelty of actually being able to walk on water that causes otherwise sane individuals (I am assuming this person was sane) to do foolish things.
My latest book, Bad Little Falls, has a great deal of ice in it. And since my protagonist, Mike Bowditch, is a game warden, he spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about the subject:
The rule of thumb with ice thickness is: It takes a foot of ice to support a medium truck, eight to twelve inches to support a car, five inches to support a snowmobile, and four inches to bear the weight of a person. But those guidelines don’t take into account moving water, not just actual rivers like the West, but the inlets and outlets of larger bodies. Most people assume lakes and ponds are still waters; they don’t realize that strong currents can move beneath their placid surfaces. And wherever the water is flowing, the ice tends to be thin, even when the temperatures collapse in the middle of February. Uncounted vehicles and people fell through the ice because they had no appreciation for Mother Nature’s treacherous side.
Already this year, rescue personnel have had to recover the body of a young trapper who fell through ice on Chapman Pond in Oxford and drowned. Those sorts of tragedies are regular occurrences in the lives of Maine wardens.
Last week, Quirk Books—which publishes the immensely readable Worst-Case Survival Handbook series—ran a timely reminder on its Web site about what to do if you happen to fall through the ice:
1. Breathe steadily. The shock of hitting the cold water will be great, but remain calm.
2. Turn in the direction from which you came. You most likely came from the area with the strongest ice.
3. Use your elbows to lift yourself up onto the edge of the whole. Do not get out yet. Hold yourself in that position. Let as much water as possible drain from your clothing.
4. Reach out onto solid ice as far as possible. If you have car keys, a comb or brush, or anything that might help you dig into the surface of the ice, use it to help pull yourself out.
5. Kick your feet as though you were swimming. Pull yourself up as you continue kicking.
6. Once on the ice surface, do not stand up. Stay flat and roll away from the hole. This distributes your weight more evenly and decreases your chances of breaking through the ice again.
Venturing out onto lake ice and seeing the world from a completely new vantage is an appealing activity. But every time I see an ice fisherman or a snowmobiler rocketing off across a hardened pond, I can’t help but think of Sgt. Esterhaus’s trademark phrase from Hill Street Blues: “Let’s be careful out there.”