ice patterns on a puddle

There are good surprises and bad surprises. For me this week there was one of each. One, an international tragedy shared by millions, the other, a private, serendipitous moment of wondrous beauty. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has replaced COVID-19 as the dominant, international source of anxiety, fear, and speculation. Friends living in the U.S. are distraught with worry over friends and family in that part of the world and are organizing the collection and air transport of necessities for the hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes for nearby bomb shelters or neighboring countries. Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian friends are participating in grass roots rescue missions that help their Ukrainian neighbors find safe havens with welcoming families and villages. Russian friends protest and risk arrest. My friends in eastern Germany and in Poland are packing emergency kits containing clothes, money, passports, and photos. I do what any empathetic First World person does – console friends directly affected and send money to those able to help directly. I don’t follow developments in detail, however, because I am powerless to change the situation. There’s no need to embrace psycho-emotional conditions that rational people flee.

Since Ukraine borders six nations that, similarly, once belonged either to the Soviet Union or its satellite allies during the Cold War era, the near hysteria in that part of the world is understandable. The situation evokes memories of the Nazi’s eastward expansion and many fear history repeating itself. The generation born prior to World War Two remember that time; some are scarred for life from the cold, distress, exhaustion, and uncertainty they experienced as prisoners, refugees, or citizens of countries occupied by a hostile enemy. Baby boomers remember the apprehension pervading the Cold War era, indelibly imprinted through senseless drills in which pupils practiced taking shelter from nuclear attack by crouching beneath school desks or crouching in school hallways, coats pulled over their heads to protect them from falling debris. Millennials and their successors in the West – with the important exceptions of those from former Yugoslavia and the Eastern Mediterranean – have never known the visceral terror of war. 

As I walked to the pool yesterday, my thoughts were absorbed by the situation in Ukraine. I was apparently sufficiently preoccupied that I forgot my bathing cap. And, on the one day a week I swim in the ‘warm’ pool. I had no money to buy a new one, so back on with my clothes. I didn’t have time to fetch my cap and return, so I just thought ‘the universe doesn’t want me to swim today. What do I feel like doing now?’ And I felt like walking the long route home through a small wood. There, I saw something I’d never seen before – thin ice on a puddle that had solidified into delicate, decorative configurations. Nearly parallel wavy lines at tight intervals, some glistening like stainless steel, others like fine threads barely visible. In addition, there was an angular network of ice bars that mostly formed triangles. Some contained the wavy lines, others straight lines running parallel to their edges. 

During the winters I spent in upstate New York and in Swedish Lapland, I saw many unusual and beautiful crystal configurations depending on the temperature, humidity, wind, and sun intensity. One of the few times I didn’t bring a camera (in the pre-cell phone camera days), I saw something that even locals had only seen once or twice, if at all, during their lifetimes. On the wood fences at the mountain tops, snow had arranged itself into the form of feathers – with central rachis and tightly packed barbs. It was like an art installation composed of bundles of pure, white feathers affixed to split-rail fences. A rare event I was privileged to experience.

When I left the pool, I knew somehow that something unexpected and wonderful would be my compensation for not swimming. I remembered earlier times when I’d been seized by that feeling of happy anticipation followed by the joy of discovery. Moments that remind you that despite everything, nature, anyway, is filled with beauty and small miracles. 

By michellefacos

I am a multi-lingual art historian, consultant (art, travel, writing), editor, entrepreneur, lecturer, and writer who has lived along the shores of the Baltic, the Mediterranean, and Lake Erie, in New York and in Paris, and in the forests of Quebec and Sweden. While I’ve lived a semi-nomadic existence for the past few decades, I’m inching toward a life anchored in Europe.


  1. Appreciate both segments of your memoir today, Michelle. Especially appreciate your perspective on the Ukrainian situation since you have traveled so much more in that part of the world than most of us have. It is indeed an extremely distressing situation. I am heartened to see more and more countries rising to the occasion and, in whatever way they can, censuring Russia.

    1. Thanks for your response. I hadn’t realized how terrified citizens of neighboring countries were until this weekend, nor of the grassroots solidarity among Ukraine’s neighbors. People are (mostly) good. One can only hope this and other insanities will soon end.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: