Earlier this winter, the park board delayed opening the skating rinks because the insulating cover provided by our early and abundant snowfall delayed the freezing of the lakes. But now it appears that the prolonged cold weather has triggered another delay of sorts: the park board recently announced that instead of closing after Presidents’ Day, as has been the custom most winters, the city’s ice rinks will remain open until March 6. We can thank our cold weather for that extended opportunity.
I may have to get myself another pair of ice skates. When we moved house about five years ago it was under some duress, and so it was a few months afterwards that I discovered that I must have left my ice skates behind. I’ve never been all that avid an ice skater, so I haven’t gotten around to replacing them yet, but the idea of ice skating continues to appeal to me, and I do have especially pleasant memories of one particularly cold winter that was notable for its lack of snow, when the kids and I skated to the middle of Lake Harriet.
The kids were elementary-school-age, and we were new to homeschooling that winter, so the novelty of having our days our own gave us the exhilarating sense that we were getting away with something. Like we were skipping school, except this was school – the museums, the libraries, the parks, the lakes, everywhere. It was cold and snowless, a combination that had the lakes frozen firm and sure by early December. We had come to know another homeschooling family who were ardent fans of winter, and they pulled and tugged and persuaded us to meet them at the lake to go skating on a bone-chilling day.
I know that it was unusually early for skating because I remember a man jogging around the lake commenting just loudly enough for two irresponsible mothers to hear how crazy we were to attempt the ice. But the warming house was open, and the park board staff assured us that they had checked the depth of the ice with an auger, so we skittered out onto the vast surface unafraid.
Because there was no snow, we could skate the whole lake. It reinforced our feeling that the entire world was ours for the exploring. We looped around the ice fishermen, inquiring cheerfully about their luck, and watched the sail of an ice boat snap to attention as it caught a frigid blast and sent the little vessel skimming across the sleek surface.
The lesson we learned from our homeschooling friends that year, if I may be so didactic, was that the joyful embrace of winter mitigates any discomforts the season throws our way. It’s not that I’ve become an enthusiast for our coldest months, I still prefer the easy comforts and lighter clothing of the other three seasons, but the memory of that pristine moment when the snowless cold created a playground just for us tugs at me now, the way our friends did on that December day.