Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Empty Like a Pocket


In the midst of an existential crisis, I went skating. I saw the glimmer of the icy pond on my way home after dark and thought, that's where I need to be right now. It was 26 degrees.

I am nothing special in skates- no Olympic hopeful- but I can move smoothly and swiftly and spin gracefully into abrupt stops, jagged steel toe snagging the ice. I can't tell from the memory how old I was when Mom strapped a tiny pair of double-bladed skates on my feet and helped me totter around on the glassy surface.

Tonight the motion became familiar almost immediately, and I learned to ignore the ominous popping of the raw ice and avoid the bubbled, cratered rim and a long faultline too pronounced to skim over by lifting my toes. I gave my trust to the granite surface- sparkling chips like mica flashing in the floodlights- and the pond beneath, buoying that thick, frozen skin on its shoulders. I picked up speed, leaning farther forward, employing my own weight to increase the economy of each stroke. I knew what it would feel like to fall. I went faster.

I master life's hardest lessons like the star pupil I am. I am not afraid to take chances, and I frequently make sacrifices in the name of self-improvement. In many ways I've made a hobby of reinventing myself. And I wonder what the odds are in this life that we find someone who truly understands what we are trying to do.

I think best on my feet. Speeding over the ice, words that deserved to be written swarmed up in my head like bees. I knew I'd forget half of them before I got home, but I kept making larger circles. I got too warm and took the outer shell of my coat off, left it on the snow bank at the edge of the pond. I put my hands in my pockets and kept skating. No one came to bother me, and trains leisurely passed each other on the tracks two hundred yards away. Just a few short months ago I watched a pair of beavers swim past the bow of my kayak on that very pond. I wondered where they went to hibernate.

I can already tell where I'll be sore tomorrow, all those unaccustomed muscles that not even my rowing machine taxes, and some days it feels like it's taxing everything. When I got off the ice and into my snow boots I felt earthbound and ungraceful, stomping to the car after all that gliding.

I came to no conclusions, but it felt good to be voluntarily cold. It felt good to be out, after two weeks of bitter temperatures that precluded every snowshoeing excursion I planned. Bud and Jeff keep talking about a wonderful thing they call the January Thaw. I hope it comes along soon- even if it means no more skating for a while.

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