The two years I lived in Northern California, I really missed seasonal change. I hated wearing the same clothes year round, and felt like there was no way to chart time passing. But also, there was nothing to resist against. I didn’t like the smooth sailing.
While she was here, her host took Hillman out to see the countryside, and she especially wanted to see the ice. It had been bitter cold before she arrived, and she said she was stunned that you could see the leaves through the ice. “There is a time when you can see through the ice and the leaves are preserved– there must be many seasons for ice.” Much like when my California students looked dumbly at me as I read a beautiful passage about fireflies, which they had never seen, the Minnesota students looked like they couldn’t believe someone could know nothing about ice.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I had the best ice skating experience of my life. I hadn’t realized how little I know about ice! I grew up ice skating, but it’s true that it was mostly on rinks, indoor and outdoor. I remember how vividly you could see the grass frozen under the ice at the rink by our elementary school, Illinois School, four blocks from my house in Park Forest.
For most of the year, the rink was an earthen indentation in the ground, split between an area for figure skating and one for hockey. In winter, the village flooded it from the fire hydrant and it would fill up with skaters. I skated there from the time I was in second grade– in fact, in second grade, a boy had his father pick me up and take me there. I suspected my mother wouldn’t approve of this “date” and so I waited for them at the end of the driveway and hoped she wouldn’t see me get into the car (even at seven I could walk to school to skate). It was not a very fun date, as I remember it, since the boy expected me to sit on the snowbank and watch him play hockey, while I wanted to be over on the figure skating side!
But I had never skated on a pond or lake until I moved to Minnesota. Maybe Illinois is just far enough south that we don’t get that string of single digit days until the ponds are covered with snow. And I realized that I do have quite a large fear of falling through ice! In fact, it was a recurrent dream for me when I was a kid. Steve and his brother Tim are rather fearless, and out at St. John’s to skate on Stumpf Lake, they insisted that 2-4 inches was plenty safe, one of them saying that even one inch of ice was OK for skating. I had heard about springs feeding this lake, and when we started out on it, although you could see from the cracks and bubbles that the ice was at least 3 inches thick, it made these deep whale noises and even cracked some, shifting slightly under our weight.
I have to say, it was terrifying, but then you get used to it. After all, no one else looked worried. And Steve told great stories about growing up on Sleepy Eye Lake. His dad had a stripped down small-motor plane on skis he used. He also built a sail for the kids to hold and use to propel themselves across the lake. Steve knows quite a bit about ice.
And what a wonderful skate it was. First, there was the clear vision of the leaves and vegetation– it really was like walking on water. The sounds, too, like whales or sonar from submarines, were eerie and delightful. It was 35 degrees and there was no wind, so it was comfortable. Around and around we went, staying near the edge, avoiding the open water on the other side of the footbridge. Tim had a bag on his back with a rope in it– just in case. Steve’s daughter Julia and Tim’s daughter Sophia were with us, and Julia took these photos.
Two days later we had slushy, freezing rain, and the snowy mix on the pond turned a sickly green. It has been snowing all day, and so the ice will be completely ruined for skating. Such a short season it was– so glad we got out in it.