This winter has certainly started off as the real deal. We were barely into January before Maquoit Bay had frozen all the way across. It’s a beautiful scene to look across the white snow towards the islands and imagine that these pieces of land are actually attached.

Well, they actually used to be.

Geology is one of those subjects that I have long tried to get interested in and always have a hard time getting past the most basic of details. But it is neat to look now at the ice connecting the seascape and realize that it was ice that actually shaped the coast and islands in the first place. Glaciers during and after the last Ice Age are responsible for the nooks and crannies along our coast and the variety of rocks you can find there.

My very basic understanding is that the ice retreated from the Gulf of Maine somewhere around 17,000 years ago and the sea then flooded what is now Casco Bay, filling in all those nooks and crannies, thus creating many of the islands.

Our primary method of getting to and from these islands is by water – boats run back and forth and ferries carry supplies. Ironically, when ice reconnects the islands, that’s when things get tricky. Icebreakers have to run back and forth constantly to maintain a clear passageway for boats. These are heavy duty ships designed to push their bows straight into the ice. The ice then flows around them, clearing a path without damaging the ship.

But when there isn’t an icebreaker around, boats get stuck. I recently came across an old photo from the front page of the Feb. 26, 1934 Portland Press Herald that shows one of the Casco Bay Lines ferries stuck in the ice 200 yards off Peaks Island. The passengers had to walk the rest of the way.

I heard stories of this when I lived on Chebeague Island just after college. Apparently the ferry got stuck off Chebeague, as well on a trip up the bay. Off the other end of the island, the ice was frozen so thick that people drove cars over to Falmouth. The crossing to Falmouth is only a few miles, but back in 1917, a team of men drove a truck from the other end of the island 14 miles to Portland just to get the Sunday Telegram, which couldn’t reach them by boat.

They made the trip in only 45 minutes, passing many much slower horse-drawn sleighs on the way! Now, with stronger hull designs and the use of icebreaker ships, this probably wouldn’t be necessary.

Just a couple of years ago, I came across a video of the Chebeague ferry trying to make its way through the ice from Cousins Island. The video of the 52-foot steel-hulled ferry ended up on YouTube and then was somehow discovered by The Weather Channel. It’s worth checking out.

The stories from this year are still in the making. They will certainly rise from both challenges and opportunities. Challenges for those needing to bring supplies and people back and forth and opportunities for those who want to explore this temporary icescape.

Learning about the history of the frozen bay is a good reminder that islands are always in flux – in natural ways like from movements of sand and rock, or from the tides that repeatedly connect and disconnect them to other lands, or from the freezing of the water that surrounds them.

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