ICE CUTTING. Refrigeration the natural way

IT'S 20 degrees, it's still winter, and it's ice harvest time in Vermont. Armed with picks, shovels, tongs, and six-foot saws with teeth that rival those of the bygone beastie Tyrannosaurus Rex, a hale and hearty group on snowshoes, skis, and waffle-stompers start their trek deep into the woods.

When they reach the Flying Cloud campsite, where tepees stand in summer, campfires are quickly started to warm fingers and toes and cook the lunch for this year's ice cutters.

Flying Cloud, a boys' camp based on American Indian ways and Quaker ideals, is open to campers and their families on this one winter weekend. Flying Cloud is not known for its creature comforts. No electricity here. No running water, no radios or box-spring mattresses. No baseball fields or tennis courts. No kitchen stoves -- not even a match, and certainly no refrigeration! That's why we're here this weekend.

The spring-fed, man-made pond surrounded by stands of white pine, hemlock, and stripling maples serves as the swimming hole in summer. This day, the first arrivals begin shoveling the thick carpet of snow from the frozen pond.

Later arrivals dig out the sled -- used to score the ice to facilitate cutting -- from under a protective bed of leaves, while others shovel sawdust out of the adjacent icehouse.

There's plenty for the 60-odd folks to do. Keep moving to keep warm is the order of the day. No roaring power saw to interrupt the silence. Everything is done by hand as it was 100 years ago.

The bitter winter weather has cooperated. Weeks of well-below-freezing temperatures have guaranteed a foundation of thick ice.

After the snow has been cleared from the pond, the ice sled, with its long, sharp steel blade, is pushed and guided by one of the more experienced members of the team. Eight or nine others help pull it, while an extra two or three ride the sled, providing the necessary ballast to score the ice into blocks.

A hole large enough to fit the blade of the gargantuan old saws is then punched through the foot-and-a-half-thick ice. Slow, steady, strokes finally release great blocks of ice that bob freely in the frigid water. The giant squares are grabbed by tongs and literally ``bounced'' up and down in the water and lifted onto the slippery frozen pond.

The 250-pound cubes are then dragged up a wooden ramp to the icehouse, stacked roof high, and covered with a thick blanket of sawdust and a giant tarp. Here they sit through the remaining winter and spring, after which they'll provide the only refrigeration for the two-month summer camp season.

Campers are helped this day by their families and friends. People come from around the county to help in this annual event. Their reward will come later in the evening, when they will be provided with a taco dinner, a steaming sauna, and -- for the not-so-faint-of-heart -- a quick roll in the snow.

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