My ankles wobbled as I slowly glided out onto the frozen lake, my skates etching parallel lines in the smooth ice. The first skate of the season is always a bit shaky at first, but it only takes a couple minutes for my body to remember the movements.
I began ice skating when I was little girl. I remember my older sister and I holding my parents’ hands as we made slow circles around the indoor ice rink at the university near our home, and the delicious hot chocolate we drank from the snack bar afterward to warm up.
We rented skates from the arena at first. I remember the sweaty smell of them, and hoping that they’d fit right so I wouldn’t have to go wait for another pair. But after a while, our parents bought us skates so we could use them outside the arena, on my babysitter’s flooded yard and the pond where we so often ice fished with our dad. This naturally forming ice, outside in the wilderness, was a new adventure.
Unlike in the arena, the ice out in nature was rarely smooth. On the pond’s surface, gusts of wind had molded the ice into ripples here and there, and the pressure of the water expanding as it froze had formed cracks and ridges. When it snowed, we had to shovel off the ice to maintain our playground. But that was all a part of the fun.
Early on, we learned not to skate anywhere near the brook that tumbled into the pond. The moving water never froze, and the ice that formed around it was thin and weak. We also learned to watch out for ice fishing holes, which were too small to swallow us whole, but were big enough to consume a leg. I learned the hard way.
As we became more confident on wild ice, we’d play tag and race to our family’s ice fishing holes when flags rose, indicating a fish was on the line. We’d also try to spin and jump like figure skaters we watched in the Olympics, and often end up on our butts. Even wearing thick snow pants, we’d rack up the bruises.
But like many childhood activities, skating fell by the wayside as I became a teen and started focusing on team sports, school and its intimidating social scene. I outgrew my skates, and before I knew it, more than 10 years had passed.
But skating is much like riding a bike. Once you learn it, the knowledge is there, though it may be buried deep in years of memories.
Two years ago, my husband and I looked out at the smooth ice on the lake that we live near and decided it was time we both try ice skating again. While he may not have been as rusty at the activity as I was, it had been quite a few years since he’d last laced up a pair of skates. So we went out, bought two pairs of skates, and hit the ice.
At first, my “skating” was walking clumsily on sharp metal bars. As I clacked over the ice, arms extended, I’m sure it appeared as if I’d never skated before in my life. But like I said, in time, my body remembered, and throughout the season, I developed a little bit of grace. My husband, on the other hand, zipped over the ice like a hockey pro from the get-go.
Now in our third year with our skates, we watch the lake and rejoice when we see smooth ice, which usually forms after cold periods of little to no snow — and maybe even a bit of rain. Ice skating has given us a reason to embrace almost any type of winter weather. When it snows, we can snowshoe and ski, but when it doesn’t, we skate.
Recently, an unusual spell of warm weather completely melted the ice covering the lake near our home. And while many people around Maine lamented the melting of the snow, we watched the lake for smooth ice to form. We knew it was only a matter of time — and temperature.
So on Dec. 30, a sunny Sunday in the low 20s, we enjoyed our first skate of the season. Carrying a rope with us for safety, we explored the lake, gliding around small islands and into coves. Over the course of two hours, we saw two other skaters out there and waved at them from a distance. Aside from that, the “rink” was ours, and in some places it was so smooth that it reflected the trees lining the shore like a mirror.
That night, my husband posted a few photos and one short video of our little adventure on social media, and I was surprised at how many of our family members and friends expressed an interest in joining us on the ice. Though they hadn’t skated for years themselves, they relished the idea of trying it out again. It looked fun, they said. And they’re right — it is.
So if you’re thinking of trying out ice skating this winter, what are you waiting for? Grab a pair of skates, a friend, a thermos of hot chocolate and give it a try.
More photos from our adventure on Dec. 30: