Sadly I won’t be joining Mårten on his backcountry skating adventures (see video). Not in Sweden, not in New Zealand, and not in Stearns County, Minnesota.
I love skating, but despite years of effort, I am not a natural.
You learn to accept such things in Minnesota, where you give every winter activity a whirl so you don’t die of boredom in the long dark months.
In my mind I glide like Mårten across beautifully groomed rinks or frozen lakes and rivers in picturesque surrounds.
But in real life I never achieved his confident skating stride, instead wobbling, squealing and collapsing, mowing into others and taking them down with me.
My younger sister wrecked her knees for life in a fall on the rink at St Cloud’s Seberger Park with its underground warming shelter, where we warded off frostbite and nursed our injuries between circuits.
How I envy the natural skaters. The ones who skim backwards and forwards, hands clasped behind their backs, sometimes doing the two step.
Instead I watch Mårten explore wild country on his industrial skates, wearing an understated backpack stuffed with cozy woollen spares and punsch for later.
Having tripped while foolishly skipping rope at a Christmas party several years ago, landing on an exposed tree root and fracturing my hip and wrist, my sparkly dress around my ears, I now think twice about wild activities of any kind.
Adventuring on thin ice is something our elders told us we must never do – good advice, as hundreds of Minnesotans recently found when they got stranded on cracking floes and had to be rescued.
What a cultural shift since my childhood, when it took serious collective consultation before everyone agreed it was safe to auger a fishing hole, skate across a lake, or set up the modest ice shanties people used then.
It’s hard not to agree with comments made by news viewers about the multiple ice rescues in Minnesota this winter.
“Don’t risk your life for a fish.”
“People should wait until the ice is three feet thick at least.”
“Why rescue them? Just wait for the ice to freeze back over and they can walk back.”
Tales of premature ventures onto the ice and all those rescues have revived memories of seasonal Minnesota sounds.
Snowflakes falling on parka hoods.
The thwack of snowballs hitting their targets.
Scrapers on frosty windshields.
The flinty noise augers make when drilling holes for ice fishing.
And that spongy sound when you walk on ice not strong enough to bear your weight. When you hear it, you wonder if it’ll be the last sound you ever hear.
There are joyful recollections, like watching Laurie Koltes streak across the ice on Pigpen Pond on the family farm in St Joseph, glossy hair and knitted scarf flying behind her.
Laurie was a natural skater. And dance hall schottische partner. And softball catcher, thrower, and batter. And runner. An all-round athlete like so many in Central Minnesota including all Kolteses.
Pigpen Pond was indeed sited by the farm’s pig pen. When skating upon it, in the right conditions you could glimpse a sunken rowboat on the pond bottom.
We all miss Laurie, who died far too young. The thing about vibrant memories is that those we love live on, as she always will, flicking back that mane of hair, flashing those perfect teeth, running bases on the softball field or skating in effortless loops across Pigpen Pond.
And so – may we all stay safe this year.
May we cherish our loved ones, and remember those with whom we’ve shared happy winter times.
May none of us hear that spongy sound on the ice.
May we arrive home every time to laughter, cozy woollens, schnapps, and punsch.
Main photo istock, YinYang