Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ice Skating

Today was as close to a perfect day as they come. I realize that I do indeed love winter, and I promise not to whine about it come February. This winter descended pretty abruptly, putting an end to rabbit hunts and all other such late-fall activities. It was below freezing every day this week, and Thursday night got below zero. A few days were in the teens.

We hold our breath this time of year hoping that conditions will remain good-- meaning once the lakes and ponds start to freeze, it needs to stay below freezing until an inch or two of ice has formed. If it goes above freezing in that time, the ice gets mushy and pock-marked. If it snows, the ice gets pebbled and mushy too. But this week, all week, I looked out the bedroom each morning at the pond in the back to see the solid spanse of black ice getting thicker, and absolutely flat and clean as glass. There was the threat of snow, and it's been overcast, but it didn't snow until last night. By then all was set, the ice smooth and two inches thick on both ponds. Today, we got to skate.

Last year I bought skates, with my eye on the pond, but it was warm, temperatures fluctuated, then it snowed and the ice was wrecked. We did not skate at all last year. But this year is different. Steve remembers last year the Monday before Thanksgiving he was out planting trees for the Deans in Cold Spring. Tuesday he hauled a truckload of metal to the recycling place. But this year the ground, the pumpkins, everything is frozen. The grass is still green, but it's frozen too. So about 11 a.m. we put on our skates and our layers of long johns and thermals, and went out to skate. Steve, of course, brought his camera and his tripod. We did some poses for a possible Christmas card. We hiked up the bank and took some photos of the remaining bales of corn sileage in the field. We skated until we were dehydrated and hungry, and came inside for leek soup he made yesterday, homemade bread, and cheese and wild rice salami from the meat market.

Late in the afternoon Nancy Ebel and five of the six Ebel children came over for skating. They'd figured out which skates fit whom, and there they were. Steve pulled the bench from the patio down near the big pond, and we laced up and were out on the ice again. Nancy and her daughter Carmen skated together and spun each other around. Nancy said, "That's as fancy as we get." But we were all good, all having fun. Eli, seven and very shy, skated for speed, until he wiped out, picking up a fine coating of snow. His hat covered his eyes. Henry, at four, gingerly made his way back and forth, and only fell when we helped him. Carmen was graceful and also fast, cutting a fine figure, holding the edge. Blaise and Joel in the middle just blundered their way around the ice, without style and with a fair amount of speed. When folks got tired they threw themselves into the banks of Reed Canary grass, though there was a perfectly good bench.

Ice skating is a grand, romantic activity. It is what childhood is all about. My first date was in the second grade when Joey Borter asked me to the ice skating rink at Illinois School in Park Forest. I said yes, of course. Then I had to figure out how to keep the secret from my mother-- she wouldn't have approved of a date when I was seven, this much I knew. The skating rink was only three blocks away, so near the time of the date I took off, walking in the direction I hoped Joey and his father's car would come. And sure enough, they pulled up at the curb beside me.

I got in the back seat with Joey, and I could see his father looking at us in the rear view mirror. His eyes smiled and sparkled. He was wearing a tam-o-shanter type cap. I was embarrassed. He dropped us off at the skating rink, which was just a depression in a field filled with water from the fire hydrant in winter. It was probably February, the apex of my relationship with Joey. The ice rink was divided into two parts. One side was for hockey, and the other for figure skating. In other words, boys and girls. Joey joined the other boys, and wanted me to sit on the snow bank and watch him play. I skated for awhile, and when I was done I did sit on the snow bank, where Brad Muncaster, who also liked me, sat beside me and talked to me. We both watched Joey skate, which wasn't very exciting. Then I walked home.

I know it was February 1972, because Joey's birthday was on leap year, and that year, his eighth, was the first time his birthday would be on the actual date that he could remember. I was supposed to go to his party, and I bought him a box kite, but I got sick and couldn't go.

That's what ice skating is about. That's why I always want to live in a place that has winter.

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