Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making Lemonade on the Lemon Fair


When life gives you lemons, the saying goes, make lemonade.

So it is that on a Sunday afternoon, instead of returning from cross-country at Reichert or snowboarding at Sugarbush, we are heading west into the sunset – to go ice skating.

For those of us who spend the season playing outdoors, the torrential rain that washed away most of the early winter’s snow a couple of weeks ago had one huge benefit: It flooded hayfields all over Addison County. That, combined with two weeks of frigid temperatures, has created miles and miles of skating lanes where once there was only snow and grassy stubble.

We drive west on 125, headed for fields along the Lemon Fair River.

Walking north and carrying our skates, we come first to ice that cracks easily under our weight. But we’re not worried. We can see the grass underneath the ice, just a couple of inches down.

At last we are out far enough on the ice that, while we can still see the grass underneath, there has been enough of a flood to create a solid sheet of ice, which holds us steadily.

Placing our fleece-covered bottoms on the glassy surface, we tug on our hockey skates, then clamber to our feet.

Out ahead of us there are hundreds of yards of ice. Tentatively at first, then picking up speed, we go zooming across the surface, arms swinging.

Yes, it’s bumpy. No Zambonis here to smooth the surface, as at the municipal rink and the college fieldhouse. We’re skating on what Mother Nature gave us.

Not only are there bumps. In the process of icing over and thickening, the flooded fields have cracked, leaving long seams where the ice rises abruptly an inch or two on to the next gigantic plate. And in a process I don’t really understand, even the smooth stretches of ice rise in gentle rolls, creating differences of 6 inches or more in height.

Despite the vast skating distances out on the field, eventually we go looking for new frontiers.

At the edge of the field is a frozen ditch, three feet deep. On the other side of the ditch, waiting to be explored, is a flooded forest.

We test the icy banks of the ditch. They seem solid enough. We decide to try crossing the ditch, hoping there is not frigid water at the bottom. We’re glad to find it’s a solid down there.

From the bottom, it takes most of our upper-body strength to pull us up the slick other side of the ditch. Finally we clamber up the other side.

Again hoisting ourselves up on the uncertain runners of our skates, we take a few tentative strides -- and begin skating through the woods.

Soon we are slaloming through the trees – taking one to our left, one to our right, around a stump here, sprinting to the next opening.

“I’ve done a lot of tree skiing before,” I say to my skating partner. “But this is the first time I’ve ever been tree skating.”

The westering sun shoots gentle yellow beams through the tree limbs. We not just navigating through trees on the edge of a field. This is a Fairy Forest, and we are skate sprites exploring our domain.

I’m thinking of the times when I was a boy and my father would take my brother and me skating along an abandoned stretch of the year a canal, in the western New York town where we grew up.

Dad was a busy country doctor. But occasionally he could sneak out on a Wednesday afternoon for an outdoor skate with his sons. At home, my mother would have hot chocolate for us before dinner.

As I’m skating the Cornwall field and forest, all the time I’ve been eyeing the Lemon Fair.

In fact, I’ve had my inner eye on it much longer than just today. I’ve fantasized about skating on that river for years, and have never done it.

I’ve spent enough time on the ice out here to know it’s thick enough. “You only live once,” I remind myself.

I lie down on the ice, spread my limbs, and slide off onto the surface of the river.
Standing up and beginning to skate, I find that I’ve been missing the best ice of all.

Though covered with a bit of snow, the surface is almost smooth. I skate hundreds of yards in one distance upstream, then a good bit downstream. My states make little V-shapes in the snow, scratchings of where I’ve been.

Off to the west out there over the Adirondacks, the sun is sinking, a fat fireball.

As it recedes, it shoots a giant skyrocket over red light straight up over the river. If I died right now, it would be OK.

Finally back in the car as it grows dark, I head toward town, the Grateful Dead’s “Sugar Magnolia” on the stereo: “Saw my baby down by the river.”

Pulling into the co-op parking lot, I spy a bumper sticker that just about says it all:
“Savor Every Second.”

-- 30 --

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8 Comments:

Blogger hu said...

This would make a great winter olympic event (and it combines rain and winter). Was that a remnant of the first route of the Erie Canal that you skated on? Keep up the good work.

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