I don’t particularly like this Arctic weather we are having. The only thing that makes this cold bearable is the fact that it can freeze the ponds thick enough for ice skating. In Kansas it takes a special set of circumstances to produce good ice. It takes at least four cold days for the ice to thicken up. But the weather is rarely stable here, so just as the ice is one day from being thick enough, we get a warm spell and the ice rots. If the ice does get a chance to thicken up, we still might get a snow or strong wind that could render the ice so rough it’s useless.
I have never been on an ice rink, but I don’t really think I’m missing much. Public ice rinks look a bit crowded, and I am accustomed to the open freedom of a large farm pond. While that glass-smooth ice sounds like a dream to skate on, I can’t imagine how I could enjoy it with my elbows tangled up with other skaters. I’ve heard that, at public rinks, the people just skate in a large circle with the slow ones on the outside and the fast ones in the middle. That sounds okay, but I get tired of skating in a circle. I like to skate backwards and play games on the ice. I don’t know if that’s possible at a public rink. The nicest thing about a public rink is that it probably has great lighting. Most of our ice skating is done at night, after working hours. We rig up pretty good temporary lighting, but it isn’t stadium quality.
For some reason, our dogs are not scared of the ice like some canines are. They will fearlessly trot after you, their claws scrabbling on the slick surface. This, of course, provides us with some amusement as we watch the dogs slip around on the frozen pond. My oldest brother Marvin’s dog Wrangler was present at one of the skating parties. Marvin plays a glove game with Wrangler and my brother Steven decided it would be fun to play this game with Wrangler on the ice. Steven skated backwards, dangling his empty glove about his knees. Scrambling for firm footing, Wrangler pursued Steven across the pond until he gripped the glove between his teeth. He then turned tail so that Steven would reverse his direction and chase Wrangler for.his glove. Typically Wrangler will tire of the chase and end the game by dropping the glove at your feet. Wrangler didn’t realize that tag on ice has boundaries, however. He leaped up on the pond bank, and when Steven didn’t follow, Wrangler dropped the glove and stood over it, grinning. I chortled with amusement as Steven tried unsuccessfully to convince the Lab to pick up the glove and bring it back. Instead, Wrangler returned to the ice, leaving the glove high on the pond bank. I stood by unhelpfully, laughing heartily as Steven was forced to crawl up the bank in his ice skates to retrieve the leather glove. It’s difficult to crawl over grass clumps with your feet in the air, but if your blades would bump a stone, dirt, or even a clump of grass, it could dull the skate.
The activities at a “Skating” can be varied. At first everyone just skates around, trying to warm up. Nearly everyone around here skates with hockey blades. Twenty years ago, everyone used figure skates. But that has changed as people have discovered the hockey blades are more versatile than the figure skates. Virtually everything done on ice in a figure skate can be done with more speed and precision in hockey skates. We speed-skate forward, and backward, We play Crack-the Whip and Derail the Train and we just goof off and see how far we can slide on the ice. Our two favorite activities are hockey and tag. Playing tag on ice in the dark can be difficult, but it’s great for practicing sharp turns and speedy take-offs. The hockey games are by no means professional. Mostly boys play, but several of the girls join if there’s enough sticks. The hockey goals are either constructed out of straw bales, or marked off with boots. The playing field is limited only by the banks of the pond and those grassy banks have swallowed more than one errant puck. The boys always have flashlights handy to search the pond’s perimeter for those black pucks among the black dirt.
When the ice is declared thick enough, we know that we need to capitalize on this opportunity as the ice in Kansas usually only lasts for a couple of days. A typical evening of skating may last for five hours. if we are so fortunate as to get good ice on a weekend, we have been known to skate an entire Saturday away. The last two years we have not had good ice, so I was excited to finally get back on the ice this year and warm up those forgotten skating muscles. Unfortunately, within the first thirty minutes of being on the ice, I injured my ankle. I collided with my brother Ivin while fighting for control of a hockey puck. My leg tried to go different directions while my torso plunked on top of my ankle. It hurt worse than a sprained ankle, but I was not about to let it ruin my first chance to skate in two years. I I figured my skate boot was similar to a brace, so I tried to keep moving. I did spend some time around the fire with my foot propped up, and it was not fun trying to get that tight skate off of my swollen ankle four hours later. I limped around for a couple of weeks with a swollen and aching ankle, but still managed to get in an additional 10 hours of ice time. Some folks wondered about it, but I explained that my ankle doesn’t move in the skate, so it didn’t hurt me. I doubt that I broke it, but it has been nearly two months now and I am just now being able jump and jog a little. We still have a month of winter left, so I hope I’ll get to hit the ice again. But I promise, no more hockey! (This year.)