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State of Mind: Shaken, Not Stirred

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This issue of The Bridge contains an article about plunging your body into cold water to enhance your mental and physical health (see p. 1). It is an intriguing topic, and I hope you will read the piece from the warmth and comfort of your La-Z-Boy near the woodstove. Even the author suggests that perhaps sitting in warm clothing with a thermos of hot beverage and watching others plunge through the ice is the best way to go.  

I’m not claiming to be a Hare Krishna person offering sublimity to your life, but I think there may be a middle road here that still involves a tremendous amount of ice.

In the summer of 2019 I traveled to the outermost reaches of Newfoundland and even crossed over into Labrador — a place where I’ve heard they have vast farms that raise the world’s supply of yellow, black, and chocolate Labrador retrievers. I did not actually witness any of these farms, with their hundreds of thousands of Lab puppies slobbering over tennis balls thrown by automated pitching machines in the warm summer sunshine, because it was still colder than all get out and the landscape looked similar to what Neil Armstrong viewed during his historic stroll on the moon. But I digress.

While in Newfoundland, I discovered that icebergs are in ample supply even in June, especially in “iceberg alley,” which is a place to which the icebergs flock in great numbers, sort of like snow geese to the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison County. 

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To get to iceberg alley you have to drive north and east in Newfoundland about as far as you can go, past the place where Columbus lost his fourth ship because it fell off the edge of the earth. But take heart, should you choose to follow in my footsteps, the roads there are almost still paved.

The clever Newfoundlanders have found a way to monetize this iceberg resource beyond just piling bunches of tourists into Zodiac boats, driving them around the bergs in rough seas, and making them all seasick. They drill holes in the bergs, drive in maple taps, and extract . . . water!

Okay, I made up that last part. They don’t use maple taps. They melt the icebergs and use the water to make . . . vodka! They can do this because icebergs that come from glaciers are made of fresh water even though they are floating around in polluted, microplastics-filled brine.

According to the website of a company that makes vodka from icebergs, the ice in some icebergs is more than 20,000 years old, which means the water froze long before humans began to foul their own nest. It therefore contains no pollutants.

According to that website, each spring, a guy named Captain Ed and his crew sail into the “wild, untamed waters” of the North Atlantic to harvest icebergs. Having cruised in the North Atlantic in 12-foot seas aboard one of those aforementioned 18-foot Zodiac boats, I will attest to the “wild and untamed” nature of the ocean up there just as soon as the nausea brought on by my fond memories of the voyage subsides.

The website does not explain exactly how they do the harvesting, and I did not witness any harvesting because I was busy hanging over the side of the Zodiac. 

About 100,000 bottles of vodka before processing. Photo by Larry Floersch

Icebergs can be rather large, and may not want to come along willingly, so I imagined a scene similar to the old days of whaling, where, using a long boat, Captain Ed and the crew sneak up on an unsuspecting iceberg (apparently icebergs have not yet learned to be afraid of humans), plunge a special iceberg “harpoon” into it, then sit back to enjoy a “Nantucket sleigh ride” as the berg struggles to get away from its tormentors just as fast as the wind and currents will allow. I imagine this can reach speeds, in nautical terms, of 0.43 knots or thereabout.

Consider my disappointment when, upon returning home, I researched it and found that Captain Ed and his crew simply tow a large barge up to a “grounded” iceberg and use a backhoe on the barge to tear large chunks from the iceberg and put them through an ice crusher.

Back on shore, according to the web site, the melted iceberg water is then mixed with triple-distilled neutral spirits to achieve an 80-proof “gluten-free vodka spirit that’s crystal clear . . .  with delicate aromas of citrus.”

The website also assures readers that any unharvested icebergs are left unharmed to simply melt away into the summer sea.

So if you want to witness others plunging through the ice into freezing water to enhance their health and well being, do as the author of that piece suggested: put on some warm clothing. But replace that thermos of hot beverage with one full of iceberg vodka. Toss in some ice (if you’re as lucky as I was, that ice will also be from an iceberg). If you prefer, add a hint of vermouth and shake well. Strain into a coupe, add an olive or two, and toast the brave souls splashing in the icy water. After a few sips, I guarantee that you, too, will experience a warm glow and sense of contentedness that will last for hours.