Ice Painting: Shaped by the Wind, Nature’s Ice Sculptures Adorn the Lake Michigan Shoreline


Photographers paint with light. I’ve been painting my way through the late afternoon.

Roads are icy and the signs caution that there’s “No Outlet” up ahead, so I’m committed.  I’ve had to stop the rental car three times now, to paint with soft stokes of orange and yellow light against a startling blue sky.

Crisp winter air hovers just enough below freezing to keep the bare tree limbs encased in ice.


I’m headed west, toward the lakeshore. From this angle, from the road, looking up into the trees, the ice sparkles on the tallest branches of the trees! They are diamond-encrusted. Bedazzled!

When I exit onto Lakeshore Drive my GPS shows me I’m driving near the water, paralleling the lakefront, but I’m disappointed that I can’t see the waves crashing against the shore, turning sand dunes into ice sculptures.

So I take a chance, trusting that my rental car will keep me on the snow-covered side roads, out of the lake and off of the lawns of the local residents. No one has plowed the roads or cleared the sidewalks (if there are any), so it’s hard to tell where the road ends and the front lawn begins.

I see the value in the tall posts that rise out of the snow, indicating a boundary that city snow plows should not cross. I begrudge the fact that I’ll have to Photoshop these utilitarian markers out of my lakefront photos, if I want them to capture the beauty of what’s around me, but I welcome their cautionary message.


The tires on my economy rental car struggle to grip the road, and I wish I had all the high-tech safety features of my Suburu Forester at my disposal, not to mention the heft of the SUV beneath me, pressing the vehicle against the cold, wet road.

We make it to the lake, that little Kia and I, when the road dead ends at Tiscornia Beach, and West Basin Marina. Signs point toward a lookout point at the end of a pier and direct me to a lighthouse. I’ve been to St. Joseph, Michigan before, but never in the winter months. It’s the week of Valentine’s day, when the state of Michigan is still very much in the grip of winter.

There’s something romantic about snuggling up indoors, wrapped in a warm blanket on a loveseat in front of the fire, sipping tea and listening to the wind howl outside. But I’m headed to the pier, ignoring my chunky heels and thin black dress pants. I’m swaddled in a knit scarf, puffy black coat, and a new pair of Isotoner gloves.

And I’m not alone!



A handful of other brave souls are down on the pier. Some are like me, inappropriately dressed, walking tentatively on the ice-covered cement, but drawn to the waterfront, despite the cold temperatures. It’s the richness of the colors, on the water and in the sky, that captivates me, and keeps me out there long enough for the cold temperatures to shut down the battery on my cell phone.

“It’s traversable,” I’m told, by a local man in tall boots and heavy coat, “but watch out for the waves. They are crashing against the pier and turning to ice!”

The wind sculpts the ice, bending it in improbable ways, freezing it into odd, twisted shapes. Icicles grab the blue tones of the landscape, wrap them up, and hold them tight. The ice that covers the ground is choppy, like the waves, and eventually I’m forced to halt. I admire the lighthouse from a distance, watching the sun sink low, smearing its warm colors into the cold blue water.


I stay out on the pier a few minutes longer than might be recommended on the Isotoner website, and my fingertips are pink with cold, numb. The blood will rush back to my extremities when I’m back in the car, and I can almost feel the tingling that will bring with it.

Lingering one more minute I recall past visits to this part of the state, as a child, during my teen years, and as a young adult. My family would visit this side of Lake Michigan in the early fall, to ride our bikes through wine country, pick pumpkins, drink apple cider and chase seagulls on the beach. That was a very different beach!


Standing on thick ice, feeling my eyelashes freeze into tiny icicles, and stomping my feet to make sure they are still there, it’s hard to imagine the summer sun.

“You can experience sand dunes, and a pavilion. Remember to bring your sandals because the sand gets hot. Non-residents charged entrance fees on summer weekends. Swimming, access to North Pier, sand dunes, bathing beach, restrooms and picnic area. No animals and no alcohol. Open all year from 6 am to 10 pm.” (Pure Michigan website)

Maybe next time!

Join me on my next adventure,

~ Kathleen

Related Links:

Pure Michigan – Tiscornia Beach:

Go SW Michigan –

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s