Sunday, December 26, 2010

Skating Ahead of the Storm

During the height of holiday craziness, sometimes it takes a friend to remind you that nature is not very far away. With no snow on the ground, access to local ponds was a real possibility after a couple of weeks of uninterrupted freezing temperatures, but I hadn't been thinking about it. On Christmas eve, with the sun shining in a blue sky, a friend mentioned she was going skating. I've only been skating in rinks of late, setting up ramps to allow wheelchair access, dispensing ice sleds and walkers from a launch zone at the doorway, with minimal time to actually zoom around myself during program hours. Now at last, was a chance to take a glide on the wild side.

Four of us met up on a shallow swamp in a nearby town for an hour of winter exploration. I have to admit there wasn't one accessible thing about getting to the edge of the pond off trail. No one had been to this wild spot even to walk recently, let alone ice skate. Hopping from one tussock of grass to another, my foot plunged through thinner ice along the edge where the sun shines the strongest. Once on the pond, the ice was plenty thick. Still I felt tentative, walking gradually around to be sure it was really safe in the deeper areas. Skating on a wild pond offers the thrill of living a little more dangerously. Of particular concern was the undulating surface among the trees and around rocks where the water had frozen in expansive bowed up and down curvatures like ocean swells. I hadn't encountered anything but a flat surface skating on ponds before.  Yet everywhere the ice was well frozen, even around a beaver lodge.

We skated over variations of ice - milky, clear, and dark - showing bubbles well below, even trails of beaver breath that had been marked as the slush froze. We skated around the bare broken trees of the swamp on bowed ice, and out into open where the wind pushed our bodies like sails over flat ice. An otter had left its tracks along a shaded edge where thin snow remained on the pond. When satisfied with our explorations, we parked ourselves at the edge, opened daypacks and thermoses, and enjoyed hot coffee and tea, danishes and chocolate, in the wide privacy of a wilder place.

This pocket adventure ended way too early, as we were all heading to the same evening gathering. With a nor'easter two days off, we knew the window on wild pond skating was closing fast. I woke up early this morning and walked down to a tiny pond not far from our house to see what kind of skating I could manage while snow clouds approached and flurries began to fall. This tiny pond had reasonably level ground to the ice and could have been accessed by someone in a wheelchair, though not another soul was around. It also had open water at one end, but thick enough ice elsewhere, and soon I was having my twirl in beauty. Despite numerous imperfections on the surface with embedded sticks and leaves, it was possible to glide with ease. Sometimes, you just gotta take advantage of such rarified moments to nourish your soul.

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