There is something magical about skating across a frozen lake or pond. At this writing it is early December and the weather here in New Hampshire has been clear and cold and really no precipitation to speak of.
Yesterday I went out and tested the ice thickness. Although the lake is fairly shallow- I am not interested in getting wet and having to skate home. The ice was between 4 and 6 inches. According to the ice thickness chart in the OLD FARMERS ALMANAC. Safe enough to skate.
At night and early morning I have been listening to the ice. The POPS, the BUBBLING, the GROANING and the occasional CRACKING as the water freezes and expands. I got up in the morning, grabbed my skates, a hockey stick and a puck. Walked down and sat on the dock and laced up.
I pushed off tentatively. Testing the edges and the strength of my legs. Every year, those first few strides seem to be a little more cautious and a little more painful. As my legs adjusted I pushed and started my skate around the lake. As I increased speed the chill in the air bit at my nose and cheeks, my eyes watered a little but I kept pushing enjoying the exercise. The only sound was each blade as they cut the ice. The summer houses now all vacant and boarded up for the winter. Too early for many to be outside a few of the year round residents waved at me from the warmth of their homes as I skated by.
The first skate of the year is always the best. The ice untouched and as smooth as Boston Garden after the zamboni. There are places where you can still see through the ice and other than the occasional buoy frozen into the ice there is nothing in the way.
Winter may be just starting but there’s just something so fabulously primitive, so instinctive and so historic about the simple act of skating outside that lingers in our memories. People started skating on frozen rivers and lakes as a form on transportation. Now it allows me to transport back in time.
As winter progresses and the snow begins to pile up I make a small ice rink out in front of my house. It is good for a quick skate or a game of hockey- but nothing beats a skate around the lake.
Where winter may keep people inside their homes where they can be warm- the ice brings us out. As I finished my skate, our new neighbors were out on the ice. We made plans for a pick up hockey game in the coming weeks. When the snow piles up- we turn it into furniture and have another reason to get together with the neighbors!
“THE SKATERS” BY JOHN GOULD FLETCHER
“BLACK swallows swooping or gliding
In a flurry of entangled loops and curves;
The skaters skim over the frozen river.
And the grinding click of their skates as they impinge upon the surface,
Is like the brushing together of thin wing-tips of silver.”
EXCERPT FROM “HAWKSHEAD” FROM “THE PRELUDE” BY WILLIAM WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
“AND in the frosty season, when the sun
Was set, and visible for many a mile
The cottage windows blazed through twilight gloom,
I heeded not their summons: happy time
It was indeed for all of us,—for me
It was a time of rapture! Clear and loud
The village clock tolled six,—I wheeled about,
Proud and exulting like an untired horse
That cares not for his home. All shod with steel,
We hissed along the polished ice in games
Confederate, imitative of the chase
And woodland pleasures,—the resounding horn,
The pack loud chiming, and the hunted hare.
So through the darkness and the cold we flew,
And not a voice was idle; with the din
Smitten, the precipices rang aloud;
The leafless trees and every icy crag
Tinkled like iron; while far distant hills
Into the tumult sent an alien sound
Of melancholy not unnoticed, while the stars
Eastward were sparkling clear, and in the west
The orange sky of evening died away.
Not seldom from the uproar I retired
Into a silent bay, or sportively
Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng,
To cut across the reflex of a star
That fled, and, flying still before me, gleamed
Upon the glassy plain; and oftentimes,
When we had given our bodies to the wind,
And all the shadowy banks on either side
Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still
The rapid line of motion, then at once
Have I, reclining back upon my heels,
Stopped short; yet still the solitary cliffs
Wheeled by me,—even as if the earth had rolled
With visible motion her diurnal round!
Behind me did they stretch in solemn train,
Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watched
Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep.”