My first Christmas with Douglas, back in 2012 when we were just courting, he surprised me with a pair of ice skates. They were from L.L. Bean, blue and silver, with lots of straps and buckles and a hard outer shell that reminded me of downhill ski boots.
I hadn’t skated since I was 14. My girlfriends and I used to walk over to the indoor ice rink after school and cruise around in unsteady circles, our ankles collapsing in our battered leather rental skates, pop music blaring through the loudspeakers. I never got good, but I never hurt myself either, and I always had fun.
So my initial response to Douglas’ gift was one of charmed delight. I envisioned us gliding together across Little Long Pond, a sweet little lake near my then-home on Mount Desert Island, hand in mittened hand, cozy in our sweaters and caps, our breaths puffing and mingling in the wintry air.
That rosy vision was quickly swamped by a cold wave of anxiety. What if I couldn’t remember how to skate? What if I fell down and injured myself, or, worse, looked awkward and foolish in front of Douglas, who is gifted with a natural grace and athleticism whether he’s running, curling or taking the trash down to the end of the driveway? I thanked him earnestly for the skates, but I felt a certain amount of dread when I thought about using them.
A few weeks later, there was a warm spell along the coast and all the tired old snow and ice melted away. This was followed by several very cold days and sub-zero nights with no precipitation — perfect ice-making conditions. One afternoon, driving past Little Long Pond, I saw a woman skating gracefully, joyously alone, across the glassy surface of the ice. Watching her, I resolved to try out my new skates the next day. And sure enough, the next afternoon, Douglas and I arrived, buckled on our skates and swooped out onto the ice.
Well … not exactly. Douglas swooped, whooped and whirled off easily into the center of the frozen lake. I teetered, wobbled, fell on my butt and couldn’t get up. He came back and hauled me to my feet. I fell again, got up again and began to get the hang of it, my body somehow tapping into the old memory of how it should feel to take a basic skating stroke. I was stiff as a robot but gradually loosened up, softening my knees and shoulders, taking longer strides and pausing to enjoy the glide between.
I was having fun, but I worried about the safety of the ice, which was cracked and fissured in some places, booming as it expanded in the relative warmth of the afternoon sun. We skated nearer the shore to assuage my anxiety. After about an hour and a half, we left, red-cheeked and laughing, ready to warm up and relax over an early dinner.
Since then, Douglas and I have skated maybe a half-dozen times — on winding streams, expansive lakes and tiny hidden ponds. We both wish it could be more often, but the conditions are seldom right. Each time, I have to rebuild my tentative skills and self-confidence. I also struggle with my fear about the thickness and safety of the ice, tamping down a vision of one or both of us plunging through and dying in the dark, frigid water.
I’ve taken to carrying a long, wooden pole my brother gave me years ago when he imagined I might use it as a kendo stick in my non-existent martial arts practice. Douglas flippantly calls this my “anti-drowning pole,” but I feel safer with it, imagining one of us hauling the other to safety. Last year, his uncle Jack kindly presented me with a bonafide hockey stick to carry instead, thinking I might look less dorky with it, but I must admit I prefer the kendo-stick conceit.
This Christmas, just a few days ago, I gifted Douglas — who sometimes skates alone — with a set of Swedish-design “ice claws,” a nifty little device that he can use to pull himself back onto the ice should he ever fall through. He scoffs at this notion, and I have to agree that it’s hard to imagine my graceful husband in such an ungainly predicament. Still, since we both look forward to many seasons of skating together, it seems a small enough concession to our shared safety and pleasure.
Read more of Meg Haskell, see her anti-drowning pole and watch a video on how to save yourself with ice claws, at livingitforward.bangordailynews.com.