South Bristol, Maine. With iron-clad pike poles and 4-foot sawblades in hand, the members of Austin Muir’s Chewonki Waypoint team jumped into the thick of a traditional ice harvest at Thompson Pond last Sunday, February 17.
The annual ice harvest, organized by the Thompson Ice House Harvesting Museum, attracted over 100 visitors, including Chewonki’s eight Waypoint students from Regional School Unit 1, all eager to lend a hand cutting, polling, lofting, and stacking the large ice blocks.
According to Muir, the opportunity to use the tools and learn about the history of ice harvesting in Maine was a big hit with the students. “We were all surprised by how much fun it was,” says Muir. “Any time you invite middle-school students to learn something new and they don’t want to stop–that’s rare.”
Chewonki Waypoint is one of seven youth development programs participating in the Aspirations Incubator, a six-year mentoring-based initiative aimed at raising and sustaining the aspirations of young people in rural Maine communities. The Aspirations Incubator is funded and supported by the Emanuel & Pauline A. Lerner Foundation. For more information, please visit lernerfoundation.com.
Volunteers from the ice harvesting museum prepared the surface of the ice using a custom-built sledge with a large rotating blade that created a grid of half-cut blocks. After that, it was “all hands on deck” to finish the cuts with hand saws and pole the freed ice blocks down a channel of water to the storage barn.
“I think this was a great opportunity to broaden our students’ perspective on food,” says Muir. “I don’t think many of them knew that people used to preserve food in an ice-box, and the importance of ice-harvesting in Maine’s history.” Ice harvesting was an important industry in midcoast Maine until the rise of the modern refrigerator in the 1930s.
The Waypoint students were initially surprised that they were expected to help with, not just watch, the harvest.
“The buddy system was key,” says Muir. “We were working with sharp tools, on ice, over a pond, in February, so safety was definitely important. Each pair of students worked together, with one person moving the ice and the other one backing them up.”
The finished ice blocks were lofted into the storage barn and stacked several feet deep to await the summer months. Some of the ice will be sold to local fishermen, says Muir, and more will be reserved for an annual ice-cream social hosted by the museum when hot weather returns.
“They were pretty tired by the time we were finished,” says Muir. “But the chance to get outside in February, learn about local history, volunteer, and engage with the community–that’s what Waypoint is all about. I hope we can come back this summer for the ice cream.”