Winter On Ice

January 25th, 2017

Update 01-24-17

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope your Holidays were enjoyable. Mine were. I had all the people I love gathered together at my home to eat and enjoy each other’s company, and that is the very definition of enjoyable for me.

Now it’s back to reality, and in places halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, reality is long, cold winter nights and precious little opportunity to get fresh air and sunshine. It tends to sap me of the ambition to do much more than what needs to be done. People I write to on a regular basis notice that the frequency and tone of my missives slows down – though most know me well enough to understand what’s going on. My imagination, normally vivid and active, becomes almost as monochromatic as the winter landscape.

But, just as the sap begins to flow in the maple trees, things begin to brighten around the middle of February and my own inner sap begins to flow. The days get longer, the sun is brighter, and the seed catalogs become more than just teases. My spirits brighten and the inner landscape isn’t quite as bleak.

I didn’t mind winter when I was growing up. As a kid, there was always something to do, from sliding down the hill behind my house, to snowball fights with the multitude of other kids in my close-knit, Franco-American neighborhood. And of course, there was skating.

My parents had me on skates before I was three. My hometown was hockey-mad. My dad played semi-pro hockey before I came on the scene, giving it up only when the leagues disbanded in the mid to late 60s. Girls didn’t play hockey in those days, but we still skated just for the fun of skating. Back then, the city maintained half a dozen outdoor rinks which were open to the public. Those things are now largely relics of a bygone era, partly because of liability issues, partly because, thanks to global warming, winters are more fickle and unpredictable, and conditions cold enough to make ice are no longer a sure thing.

We also had access to The Arena, an indoor rink maintained by the Dominican Fathers, and used for youth and high school hockey leagues. It was also open for public skating at a nominal fee. Whether indoors or out, I loved skating. I don’t mind saying I was pretty graceful on the ice. My friends and I practiced jumps, spins, pirouettes, and any number of spontaneous acrobatics. We even did a form of jumping rope on skates, not having any clue how difficult a feat that actually was.

Skating is like riding a bike. Once you do it, you never forget how. You may be awkward and rusty at first if it’s been awhile, but you don’t fall. In no time, you’re picking up where you left off, at least insofar as your physical condition will allow.

I’ve always liked skating on indoor ice, the kind kept smooth and even by Zamboni machines. Tie on a pair of good fitting skates with sharp blades, and it’s like moving on air. It takes almost no effort to glide from one end of the ice to the other. With a little imagination and a few well-timed moves, it’s easy to feel like you’re channeling Dorothy Hamill (showing my age).

My wife had never been on skates when we met. Our first winter together, I dragged her onto the ice and taught her how to do it. Some time back I wrote about Karen getting Laci on skates for the first time. That scene was based largely on my experiences teaching my dearly beloved the basics of not falling on her ass that first time. It’s a lot easier to learn as a kid when everything new involves falling: walking, running, climbing, reaching. A fall is a fall, and that’s just the way the world works when you’re three.

My wife picked it up in no time. She’s always been into physical fitness, and she’s adept at things requiring coordination. Once she got the hang of it, skating was something we could enjoy together. Sadly, as the years go by it gets harder and harder. Our towns are down to two indoor rinks, and those are much in demand. There are six high school hockey teams, a minor league semi-pro team, and the enormous youth hockey program all vying for ice time. Public skating is limited to two hours a week on Saturday mornings.

Outdoor rinks, ubiquitous in my childhood, are now all but non-existent. There were none open last year because it never got cold enough to make ice. Pond skating is a romantic notion, but it’s never been a viable option. Even when it’s cold enough for natural ice, pond ice is rough and rutted, and with the necessary cold comes snow, and you simply can’t skate on snow.

I’ve given thought to learning cross-country skiing or even snowshoeing – which was huge in my home town at one time, a legacy of our deep-rooted French-Canadian ancestry – as ways to get out into what sunshine we do have. I also enjoy snowmobiling on the extensive trail network. Unfortunately, all those activities require an important ingredient: snow, and there’s been precious little of that the last three years or so. Until we get snow, I’m not willing to spend the money for snowshoeing or cross-country gear, only to have it languish in the garage next to the snowmobile I can’t use.

I haven’t been totally idle. I’ve forced myself to do something related to the story of our heroines every day, whether that’s research or actual writing. I’ve pretty much roughed out the beginning and the end, but the all-important middle hasn’t made itself clear just yet. As I’ve said before, my Muses Calliope and Erato are rarely straightforward. They make me work for every single paragraph, and I’m OK with that because I’m learning and improving every step along the way.

But in the final analysis, give me spring and summer with my gardens, long days, abundant sunshine, and my brain is a much happier and more productive place.

I hope winter is being kind to you. I know at least some of my readers are dealing with torrential rains, floods, and unusually wintry weather. I hope none of you are in the path of any of the deadly storms sweeping the country. Please stay warm and safe. You’re all precious to me.