The Perfect Skate (a true story)

Stretching along the back boundary of the family farm was the bush, a woodlot of mixed trees and wildlife. Widthwise, it wasn’t a long distance until you hit the highway, but lengthwise, one could imagine being in a forest.

It had been an unseasonably mild winter with more rain than snow, though still enough to make getting around difficult on foot. Saturday, my father mentioned over dinner that when he had gone back there, things were frozen flatly, the trees keeping the worst of the snow out.

The next afternoon I slipped out of the house after lunch with my brother’s old hockey skates. While I did love to skate, it only happened perhaps once a year with school, and my hand-me-down leather skates were not much in the way of support, either for my ankles or self-esteem.

I followed the path of the tractor tires through the field, alert for fence posts jutting out. The sun shone brightly blinding off ice crusted snowy fields. At last I arrived to the spot where my father had been.

I had hoped for a small area that I could just skate around a bit. What I had not imagined that within the cool silence of boughs heavy with snow that the entire bush was frozen over, it’s surface as pristine as any zamboni cleaned rink. Some areas closer to the trees were white and brittle, a thin veneer hiding hollows beneath, but the other parts were dark and solid. Even should I break through, the deepest would be to my knee (the logic of youth not accounting for the need to slog back to the house in the cold).

The only sounds in the bush that day were the echo of my skates, and the occasional chirping of disturbed sparrows and squawking jays. Staying to the centre of the lengthwise path, I could imagine countless stories of Snow Witch queens, and fairy tale forests. I glided from spot to spot, the occasional push of a skate enough to carry me slowly through the trees, where only a few sparkling flakes floated freely around me, like being in a snow globe.

I carried a stick, to wield against imaginary foes (as well as to test any suspicious spots that might break beneath me), and my skates and imagination carried me through the afternoon down and up the length of the land until at last I had to leave my icy kingdom and return home.

It never froze over quite like that again. Even by the next weekend the forest floor was drifted over, impassable by skates. Sometimes in winter my warmest memory is that cold day, silence sliced by booted blade against ice, a moment of joy gliding over the past.