Our friend Tom has a water-filled quarry, a deep, north-facing grotto with sheer walls and perfect for summer skinny-dipping. In winter, though, it is an idyllic setting for a neighborhood skating party, and Tom has boxes of vintage skates for those who come without. Before last week's snow, when the ice was clear and the day was warm, Tom started calling up friends who descended the switchback path singly and in groups for a happy day on the ice.
I never get to skate the way I used to do, having grown up at a boarding school with an ice rink. There was a time when ice hockey looked like the one team sport in which I might develop sufficient skills to advance to higher levels, but the prep school I attended was in mid-Atlantic Delaware, where the pond rarely froze and they wrestled in winter instead. My sister, on the other hand, went to Groton where she became a skilled hockey player, and I'd imagine she would skate circles around me today if we ever were together in a cold clime again for a pick up game of pond hockey.
I love skating outdoors better than almost anything else in winter. Spending New Year's at Windrock, or gathering two weeks later to celebrate Gran's birthday, my cousins and I always hoped it had been cold enough to freeze the cranberry bogs slick and smooth, with flooded plants and even fish visible under the black ice. There is also spring-fed Zeke's Pond down the beach where we would meet up to skate, and one very cold winter the bay itself froze, and I decided that rather than walk to the pond I would skate to it.
There was less risk involved than you might think. Emerson reminds us that "In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed." The rise and fall of the tide tends to break up the ice by the shore, and thrusts it up where the rocks break the surface. Once over that, though, it is a silent world, for there are no waves to lap at the beach, and the ice is thick and strong for a mile or more out on the shallow bay. The salt leaves a film of slush and rime on the ice and is not something you would want to expose new skates to, but mine were inherited from my Dad and were state of the art in the early 1960s. Every now and then there is a thin crack in the ice but these are easily negotiated. Skating over the bay reminded me of my Gr-great aunt Maudie Livingston, who spent Christmas with us one winter and told mesmerizing stories of her girlhood in Newburgh, New York when she skated on the Hudson and jumped over the cracks in the river ice.
Quarry skating is not so extreme, but has an exotic allure of its own. The immediate edge of the ice at Tom's had melted away from the marble walls, but the rest of the surface was thick and creamy white. There were patches that had gotten softer in the pale winter sunlight, and places where leaves had frozen in the ice, but most of it was perfect for new skaters and old, rusty pros. Emily and Elias had only skated once before, and this was a banner day for both. Emily discovered that she could totter along without assistance, while Elias on his double blades learned that as much fun as it was to push a chair along for balance, far better was to sit in it while I pushed and he whacked at hockey pucks with an over-sized stick. There were sleds adapted for towing, and as many as five children piled into the largest while two of the men towed them in gleeful circles around the quarry. There were cocoa and cellared apples and homemade cookies all around. Currier and Ives never etched a more whimsical scene or a finer winter memory.