Yesterday was cold, but bright enough to slice the eye. I left the studio around 4 and walked through the little neighborhood park, where the snow now reached half-way up the red-painted wrought iron fence around the play area. No one else was out. At the other end of the park I looked at the empty skating rink as I walked past, then stopped and climbed up on a bank of snow to examine it more closely. The ice, made by flooding an irreegular circle of piled-up snow, was smooth, with a light dusting of snow. Three dark trees, with snow left around the base as an optimistic cushion for flying bodies, stood in the center.
It all reminded me of the rink my father and grandfather made in the backyard of the big house in Sherburne several years when I was young. The ice, as I remember it, was always perfect. On the back side stood two tall spruce trees, and in the front, a huge sugar maple that dominates that street even now. My cousins and friends all skated there, staying out until we were blue with cold; we had wool sweaters and nylon snowpants but no fleece or down, and our feet inside our white figure skates would ache for an hour after we were finally ordered inside. We never played hockey; we just skated under the trees.
There were other places, too; the school rink on the playing field behind the shop and band room, or a town rink in the park downtown, and later on the lake where my parents built a house. Sometimes, in a very cold winter, we'd skate on the brook that ran through my cousins' farm, which gave the excitement of a journey rather than going round and round, as well as the fear of falling in. We knew the spots to avoid, around willow trunks and branches emerging from the ice or places where there were rocks and faster currents in summer, and so far as I know, no one ever fell through.
I took a few photographs from the far end of the park and then decided to go back to the northern side. The snow crunched under my feet with a specific sound, as accurate a gauge of the temperature as any thermometer. I looked up at the icicles hanging from the eaves of houses, knowing what sound they'd make when knocked off with a broom handle, or when shattered on the ice after being used as mock swords: a brittle glass harmonica.
In fourth grade, I remember there was a book about a little girl who had an accident while skating; something happened and she was cut badly with the blade of her skate and had to go to the hospital in an ambulance. It must have been written to teach children about the reality of hospitals. But somehow, I realized, it had become conflated in my mind with another book about a girl who had become a saint after dying in some unexpected and heroic way. Where did these books come from? They weren't the sort of thing my mother would have found in the town library, and the second one, it seemed to me, must have belonged to one of my Catholic friends who was taking catechism classes. Oddly, though, they had joined to create a memory of childhood injury, death, and saintliness, illustrated with vague mental images of white skates, blonde hair, ambulances, and a child in a field of flowers.
When I reached the north side of the rink again, there was a young woman sitting on a bench. She wore an off-white coat and was lacing up her figure skates. On the path in front of her was a wooden sled with a curved back, and on the sled, a swaddled baby. The mother wore headphones, and smiled at me. I wondered what she planned to do with the baby while she skated, all alone on the frozen rink under the trees, and was tempted to walk around the rink once again, to be able to see. But it was getting late and I needed to go home, so I continued down the street, imagining the tall dark trees with their white skirts, like dervishes frozen in mid-twirl, above the baby resting in its sled on the ice, next to a bank of snow -- an arctic version of Moses in the bulrushes -- listening to the rhythmic slash of its mother's skates cutting the ice.