Years ago when I got my first pair of snowshoes I thought I would be able to dance across the top of snowy surfaces without sinking down. Not so. Snowshoeing through deep snow — however powdery — while easier than walking in boots, is still a sweaty slog. Tonight the dogs and I went out at dusk. Tugging first one duck-shaped foot and then the other up and forward, I waded along, getting increasingly hot and wondering why I hadn’t just gone for a walk along the plowed road. Then panting up the final hill toward home, I noticed a faint glow in the snow ahead and looking more closely saw that my shadow had appeared to urge me on. Turning my head to see the moon rising behind me, I mentally thanked her for the company.
As we glided across the gray ice on Megunticook Lake and then stopped to bask in the setting sun’s purple, pinkish glow, John looked at me and said “skating is really your favorite thing isn’t it?”
He might be right. As we stood by ourselves in the middle of a huge expanse of winter water, the slowly disappearing sun was going out in style, shooting rays of color into the clouds, the sky, and the mountains. All of it was reflected in the ice, which became brighter than even the setting sun. The darker the sky became the more the ice looked liquid, just with its ripples and wind-blow waves frozen in time.
Swimming through the water in the summer takes effort — the joy it gives comes from the soft feel of the water on my limbs. Skating over frozen water, on the other hand, is about the speed. It’s like that surging rush in a sailboat when the wind suddenly catches the sails and pushes the boat forward. Except on the ice, I get that feeling of speed with no boat or sails. Just me and my long blades.
I can go so much farther with so little effort.
On Saturday, knowing that a blizzard was on the way, John and I and the dogs went out for a morning skate. I headed out ahead of John across the smooth surface, left blade carving a long line, then the right blade, then the left, right, left, in a gentle rhythm marked by quick scraping sounds.
We met a lone woman skating back to the shore. “Great out here, isn’t it,” she said.
Further along, we saw a bald eagle perched in a tree watching us, especially Roger. The eagles hang around ice fishermen looking for handouts. This one was contemplating whether Roger might taste better than a dead fish.
Ice brings out interesting characters. Last year we met a man riding a bicycle with studded tires on the slippery ice. Sometimes I have run into a guy who golfs — I have found his lost balls stuck into the ice. There also are ice-boaters and ice-fishermen. Most of them use untended tip-ups with flags that alert them when the bait has been taken. Saturday, though, we saw an elderly fisherman who was jigging for white perch. He sat on a small overturned bucket next to a gas heater and was using a small rod to catch the fish and pull them out. Perch travel in schools, he said, and when you catch one, you can be sure you will catch another right away. More than a dozen silvery green perch lay next to him on the ice, one or two still slowly flopping.
“I think he was lost,” the fisherman said. “He asked me which way to go to get to Moody Mountain.”
We were not lost. We went all the way down the lake to the other end, where we removed our skates and hiked over a short spit of land and onto another smaller body of water, Norton Pond. We skated to the end of that, and just as the snow started to fall quite heavily, we headed home.
Woodsmen have been out in force in our neighborhood over the past few weeks clearing up the mess from November’s freak storm — the metallic whine of their chain saws cuts harshly through the air.
Today as the dogs and I picked our way through the crusty snow out back we heard some more gentle and natural woodsmen at work: pileated wood peckers.
The first one flew in a zig zag over my head as I was walking up a hill. It squawked a slightly frantic, whinnying “keykeykey” before landing on a nearby ash tree and looking down at us, with its big red head cocked to one side as if to say “what are you doing in my woods?” As he watched us and we him, we heard the drumming sound of yet another woodpecker echoing up through the trees and then yet another, or was it the same one trying out another limb. Were they part of the same crew or were they fighting over territory? Whichever, the dogs and I walked home content that nature’s clean-up crew was hard at work.
Every so often the stars align to create perfect black ice strong enough for skating — several days of below freezing temperatures, not too much wind (it can create ridges) and no snow. It only happens once every few winters and never lasts long, maybe one or two days before inevitably the ice is ruined by snow or rain. And it’s always a little scary because you have to be sure the ice is thick enough and even then you have to be careful, always carrying ice picks and watching where you glide.
I am an ice skating junkie. I will go out on almost any sort of ice, picking my way through snowy ridges or around high, wind-blown ice bumps. But black ice, well it’s like the most perfect meal you ever ate, the most beautiful sunset you ever saw, maybe even better. It looks liquid, reflecting the sky, the sun, the trees and even me.
We had it here in Camden, Maine, yesterday and today. And tomorrow it will be gone, covered by freezing rain and snow.
My brother, who also is an ice skating nut, is part of a company that makes something called “Kite Wings.” They come in all sizes and recently he has made ones for amateurs like my husband, John and I. He gave us one for Christmas and we tried it out yesterday. Luckily we were wearing our skiing helmets — something I always do when on the ice now — because John fell and hit his head. He’s got a nasty black eye, but is otherwise ok. He wanted to go skating again today — black ice is that way it calls you even when you’re feeling sore — but did the right thing and stayed home resting.
I, however, could not resist that siren call of ice about to disappear and went out for one last solitary set of spins.