Many things in life bring a smile to my face, but few create such a rich kaleidoscope of images as the sound of skates on ice. The raspy, fluid sound of the blades, as they carve into the surface of the ice on a cold winter’s night. Etched in my mind, this sound is the guardian of many joyful childhood memories, my own, and mine of my son’s. The feeling of the wind riffling your hair as you speed around the rink. That moment when you shed your coat to skate in just a T-shirt and gloves because you’re so warm from activity, even though it’s freezing out. The steam rising from a cup of hot cocoa, too hot to drink; then a moment later, stone cold. Being the first to mar the pristine surface after the Zamboni has worked its magic on ice.
I remember, too, teaching my son to skate when he was very young. Bent over, holding him up as he shuffled along, moving slowly around the rink and by the end, my toes frozen and my back aching. Then the delight on his face, as he took a few strides by himself, wiping away any discomfort I was feeling. Now, it seems to me, it was the very next winter he was skating circles around me, taunting me to catch him if I could.
And, of course, a child’s rite of passage – shinny hockey. Oh, the sights and sounds of a rousing game of shinny. Sticks slapping, pucks flying across the ice. No goalies, few rules. Pure fun.
So clear in my mind is the image of a brilliant, sunny day, the rink swarming with kids. So many games going on, I couldn’t tell who was playing with who. Apparently it didn’t matter. But etched ever deeper are the crisp clear cold winter nights when there were just a handful of boys playing under the stars and the flood lights. The lucky few whose parents didn’t mind if they played first and did homework later.
As much as there is joy playing in glorious sunshine, there’s something extraordinary about skating at night. The snow softens the edges of the world around us. The air, though, is crisp and clear. The sound of the skates on ice, sharp in the night air. The sky deep navy and pierced with stars. It’s dark and feels so late, but really it’s not. As a child it feels almost illicit to be out after dark. Stolen moments. All the more reason to be treasured.
In In the Skin of a Lion, a novel set, in part, in the early 20th century one winter in the northern wilderness, Michael Ondaatje describes a beautiful scene where a young boy is mesmerized by a group of men skating at night on the frozen river. They were playing tag. Their skates made of old knives or antlers strapped to their boots. Their only light, the burning cattails they carried aloft as torches. They were flying around laughing, chasing each other. This was a time when days were filled with long hours of hard work; nights were a time for rest. Yet, here these men played. The boy is fascinated by the sheer joy they exuded as they skated late into the night.
Yet another reason to love winter, no?
Do you have a sound or smell that triggers a fond memory? Please share you thoughts in the comments below. We’re listening.