Wild Ice

pond hockey - 1


There’s this interesting interlude in our weather, from mid-November to mid-December, in which the temperatures are low enough to make ice on the ponds and lakes, but before the snow arrives to cover it up.  Once, back in 2004, a few years after we had moved to the lake, a group of outdoor enthusiasts called to say that Birch Lake, in nearby Jewel Basin and a few miles up the trail, had amazing ice.  Don and I grabbed our skates and hiked up to join the families who were skating on ice which was so smooth and so clear, that when you glided across the pond, you could see schools of fish swimming below your feet.  I remember laughing out loud.  Then, suddenly, the ice began to break at the edges of the lake and  you could feel the whole pond begin to move, and there was this loud sucking noise, like when you pull the plug in a bathtub.  Everybody skated as fast as they could toward shore, and I remember just running off the lake, then running on the ground for a long time, knowing I was ruining the edges of my hockey skates.  None of us had any idea what had happened, as we watched a two-foot wave of water slosh up the sides of the lake and wash back over the ice.  Later, we learned that a 7.9 earthquake had occurred in Alaska, at the same time we were skating, and there was an article about it in the local paper afterwards.  We still talk about it this time of the year.

We have this little pond on a neighbor’s property, a brief walk from our house.  You follow the deer path, cross the neighbor’s driveway, up a short knoll through the trees, and there’s the pond.  The neighbors are not here in the winter, but Don called them in San Diego to get permission, and they just asked him to please not fall in.  It was A Wonderful Life Christmas last year, when the grandkids were all here, and they sledded down our long, steep, and winding snow packed road, and they skated on the little pond, which Don spent hours each day, clearing snow.  Last week-end, we had a few brief days of ice, when the temperatures went down into the teens for both day and night.  Don loved clearing the ice and skating in the afternoons.  There’s an old rusted aluminum lawn chair at the edge of the pond, and I like to sit there, watching, and listening for cracks in the ice, and smelling the trees, and looking for eagles.  The kitties followed me through the snowy woods and Gary assumed the goalie’s position while Chatpeau huddled in the underbrush, a safe distance away.

But, the days all this week have been windy with temperatures in the 40’s.  The snow in our yard is gone, and there was a clear path in the yard as we walked down to the dock this morning, to watch the Geminid meteor shower.   It was so warm that we wished we’d brought a blanket to put on the dock, so we could lie down on our backs, but, we saw over a dozen shooting stars, before our necks began to hurt.  Rain is predicted tomorrow.   The forecast next week doesn’t look much different, and people are trying to remember if we’ve ever had a Christmas without snow.  It seems that it always comes, just in the nick of time, bringing new adventures, often harrowing, of deep snow and ice-covered roads.  But, I think the transient wild ice days may have come and gone for this year.


In the warming house, children lace their skates,   
bending, choked, over their thick jackets.
A Franklin stove keeps the place so cozy
it’s hard to imagine why anyone would leave,
clumping across the frozen beach to the river.   
December’s always the same at Ware’s Cove,
the first sheer ice, black, then white
and deep until the city sends trucks of men
with wooden barriers to put up the boys’   
hockey rink. An hour of skating after school,
of trying wobbly figure-8’s, an hour
of distances moved backwards without falling,
then—twilight, the warming house steamy   
with girls pulling on boots, their chafed legs
aching. Outside, the hockey players keep   
playing, slamming the round black puck
until it’s dark, until supper. At night,
a shy girl comes to the cove with her father.
Although there isn’t music, they glide
arm in arm onto the blurred surface together,
braced like dancers. She thinks she’ll never
be so happy, for who else will find her graceful,
find her perfect, skate with her
in circles outside the emptied rink forever?





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