I’m in northwestern Ontario, paying a visit to some long-buried ancestors. As a bonus, I get to experience some chilly weather

Here’s what happens to a waterfall in a chilly breeze at -25 (-13 Fahrenheit):

The lip of Kakabeka Falls in summertime...

The lip of Kakabeka Falls in summertime…

...and in the winter. All motion ceases.

…and in the winter. All motion ceases.


Some of the upstream river is still unfrozen and it slides behind the “ice falls,” briefly appearing in a pool below, before diving back down.

All this is very impressive, but the birds and mammals are even more staggering. Chickadees bounce among the branches, a goshawk chatters, ravens wing by, and red squirrels are out foraging. I took off my gloves (idiot) to snap a few bird photos. One minute later, the wind and cold did their work and I lost all feeling in my thumb. Its skin still tingles, hours later.

I salute you, boreal masters of mikwan, ice.


Black-capped chickadee

Pine grosbeak

Pine grosbeak

22 thoughts on “Icy

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Wow — that is an impressive shot of Montmorency Falls. No spray here. Very quiet. In the summer it roars.

      Yes, The Forest Unseen talks about chickadee adaptations. Up here, I’m staying fully clothed. A frozen hand is plenty enough.

      1. Karen Pick

        Love the photos (as always!)
        I too was going to mention the “pain de sucre” at the base of Montmorency Falls! A 10-minute drive from my home. Skin tingling for hours after a few minutes exposure to -25? David, that’s not normal! (Seriously!)
        Looking forward to rereading the chapter on chickadees tomorrow (because it’s dated the 21st – mustn’t cheat!)
        Watch out for Smurfs. They already wear tuques, so you know they’re Canadian.
        Stay warm!

        1. David George Haskell Post author

          Thank you.

          My thumb must not have been properly acclimated, having gotten used to the mildest of Tennessee. On the other hand (so to speak), the wind chill took things to – 3–something Centigrade, and I’d been out in cold for an hour in not-so-hot gloves. So perhaps my thumb is not so soft?!

          My face had a good collection of ice on all exposed parts. I guess chickadees take care not to breathe onto their feathers?

          Enjoy the chapter!

  1. Irene Gibson

    I hope your thumb recovers sensation! The ‘tingle’ is a good sign. Anything below zero is COLD, Exposed face and fingers sometimes suffer……as well as toes, if damp

  2. Judy Magavero

    Glad to hear that your fingers didn’t freeze to the camera. Thank you for making us grateful that our arctic air is just coming in waves.

  3. Jacqueline Donnelly

    Spectacular view of the falls! You got a great photo of them. I am always amazed when I see the tiny birds flitting about in such terrible cold. Although I have learned about their strategies for winter survival, it still seems impossible that such little bits of feather and fat could make it through a single sub-zero night without freezing solid.

  4. Linda DiSantis

    We were at Kakabeka Falls in the summer of 2012. Really impressive. But your winter shots are even more interesting. Thanks for sharing. Love your Ramble posts. Still recommending the Forest Unseen often.

  5. François Hogue

    Thanks for making space for chickadees.
    Sitting quietly on a fallen tree in the forest reserve of Duchesnay (just slightly west of Quebec City) after an 8-inch snowfall that mutes all sounds except the ones that are closest to you is one of those great times to listen to and watch the chickadees. The other amazing thing about chickadees is how you can teach kids to put out their open hand with some trail mix in it, be still for a minute or two and watch their face light up when a chickadee calmy lights on their hand to select a beakful, flies off and returns (or sends a colleague) back for more. Without chickadees, the northern forest in winter would feel so much less welcoming. The humble chickadee should be someplace’s emblematic bird… not glamorous enough I suppose, but I’ll always see them as a reassuring sign of a healthy forest.

    1. David George Haskell Post author


      The Carolina chickadees here in Tennessee are more skittish: they require training to get come close. But I was very impressed by the Black-capped chickadees near Kakabeka. They came very close, seemingly very curious. Next time I will make an offering of trail mix.

      Thank you for this beautiful observation.


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