Mulling the mystery of the ice circle

A rotating circle of ice formed on the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, Maine.
A rotating circle of ice formed on the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, Maine. Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe


It was as sad as Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians. As tragic as Samson shorn of his locks.

I’d come here to Westbrook seeking divine truth. Or pantheistic wonder. Or symbolic clarity.

Or at very least a mesmerizing view of the giant ice circle spinning endlessly in the Presumpscot River. Something this rare must signify something. Why, I’ve talked to religious voters in Iowa who could interpret trickier portents in an evangelical nanosecond.

“A bitternut tree fell smack on top of a haystack and left it looking like a smushed sombrero? Franklin Graham is right: God has ordained that Donald Trump will be president.”


So what means that big icy disk, glittering like an enormous owl’s eye there in the river? Is God casting a frosty look down upon us? Perhaps the billions of tons of carbon dioxide we humans emit each year have become more than a mote in his eyes. Things may have warmed to the point where he’ll have to install Celestial Air.

Viewed on the Internet, it reminded me of the dial on the bulky telephones of my youth. Could the message be that He wants America to return to rotary phones? Maybe it offends him to see his sidewalk-strolling flock forsaking the beauty of his creation for the false idol of their Instagram accounts.

A puff of the herb might lend some epiphany, something along the lines of: It’s actually a gigantic carousel for waterfowl. Or a Lazy Susan for duck hunters. Or a signal that He wants Westbrook to change its name to Circle Brook. Or Brook’s Circle. Or . . . well, you get the idea.

Truth be told, I have a little weed at home, a sample from a friend. But it ended up in the same drawer as the catnip, and I don’t know which is which. It can’t be good for cats to gorge themselves on grass, and I don’t want to toke catnip smoke, lest I start munching Friskies. So both bags sit chastely in my dresser, imparting happiness to neither man nor feline.


In lieu of elevated insight, I’ve researched what others have had to say about ice circles. Alas, the ages have passed down precious little wisdom there. Some thought, however, has been given to the shape itself.

“The nature of God is a circle of which the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere,” thought Greek philosopher Empedocles , which supports the notion that something big is at work here. And yet, as Spinoza observed, “If a triangle could speak, it would say . . . that God is eminently triangular, while a circle would say that the divine nature is eminently circular.”

I hoped a visit to Westbrook would help me sort through these lofty ruminations. Imagine, then, my disappointment when I arrived to discover the spinning disk spun no longer. It was iced in surer than Shackleton .

Sadly, spinning is winning as far as riverine ice circles go. Immobilized, a frozen disk gets knocked off its hydrological high horse PDQ. To my eye, it resembled a big frozen pizza. So maybe it’s a cryptic message to today’s youth to study hard. Why do I say? Well, recall actress-director-producer Sarah Paulson’s sad post-high-school story: “All of my friends went to college, and I got a job at Circle Pizza, where I worked for 24 hours. I had to call my mother four times to ask her how to spell Parmesan.”


Then again, at this point, Sarah has not only won all kinds of acting awards, she’s also been designated one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Which probably wouldn’t have happened if she’d been a better speller and kept her job at Circle Pizza, where at very best she might have been named employee of the month and awarded a choice parking spot.

So perhaps, in the end, it all comes down to what Cyndi Lauper says: “Everything does go in a circle.” And why does it spin, when it can? Simple: Ice circles just want to have fun.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.