Creeping Seep

By , December 29, 2012

A couple days before Christmas, we awoke to a surprise: a seep had formed suddenly in our door yard.

Seeps are a regular feature of our landscape. Water flows beneath the surface of most of the peninsula, appearing predictably in some places, unpredictably in others. In winter, they freeze spectacularly, creating “glaciers” that make hiking the trail treacherous.

This new one formed overnight, so that a sheet of ice greeted the first person to go out to use the outhouse that morning. It appeared on the hillside behind the cabin and flowed down the base of our trail, between the woodshed and outhouse, restricting access to both and making the start or end of one’s journey a slick proposition.

frozen seep

Aly inspects the seep that suddenly appeared in our dooryard (Photo: Michelle Zeiger).

We have seen seeps form in this place before, but had forgotten about the possibility. Nor did it seem likely, as we’ve had a long, cold, dry spell. It’s so dry that most of the snow that fell that week evaporated overnight. We assumed that any subsurface moisture that might still be around would be well frozen by now. Instead, it flowed slowly, building up layer after layer of ice across the path, creeping down toward the doorstep. We have to pick our way carefully across it, or find alternate routes.

We dug up a bag of cat litter that has gone unused since we found a better one for our needs, and sprinkled it on the downhill edge of the seep. This may have worked. At any rate, the flow stopped right there, but spread out across the area.

Luckily, the ice frosted over in the cold, so we can walk on it, provided we’re careful, and focus our whole attention on what we’re doing. We raked forest duff over it to try to improve traction, but I’m not sure if that helped, or simply made it harder to see where the ice is.

Now we’ve got snow, and expect rain in the next day or so. Most likely, we’ll settle back into the usual Southeast Alaska freeze/thaw cycle that defines our winter. Hopefully, the seep will melt away or break up. With luck, the flow will stop as suddenly and inexplicably as it started—this is often the case. Otherwise, we’ll be walking very carefully every time we step outdoors for a while.

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