Ice on a Connecticut Pond

It was a bright, cold Sunday morning in winter. Temperature in the 20s, a coating of snow on the ground. It seemed a good time for a wake-up spin around the pond where we had skated all week.

Dressed warmly, I laced up my skates, opened the door of the cottage where we lived, and trudged up the hill towards the big house. Turning around I was amused at the herring-bone pattern my skates imprinted in the snow.  Past the driveway and across the service road, I reached the pond. I sat on a flat rock to adjust my gloves and tighten the straps on the skates. Then I was on the ice, pushing off to glide slowly over the smooth, snow-dusted surface.  I picked up speed on the second turn making a slightly wider circle over the pond that is probably a quarter mile in circumference.

I knew where there was a weak spot on the far side near the shore. There the ice tapers before becoming a patch of open water.  Even giving that far side a wide berth 20 yards closer to the center, you could feel a tremor like a sagging floor sounding a warning to stay away. I made more runs, circling faster, invigorated by icy air colliding with the tender skin of my face. 

Distant from the weak spot, near the middle in what I knew was the deepest part, I was suddenly in the ice water, submerged to the shoulders. It happened with such speed that I had no sense of ice breaking or going into the water. There was momentary shock which was followed by an interval of compressed mental clarity. The brain began emitting messages in quick succession like a pulsating fire alarm:  “Emergency, take action, Emergency, take action!” —do something or perish.  

I remained calm processing the urgent command. I understood the task before me…. don’t panic, don’t waste time and energy crying out — no one can hear, people are too far away. What’s the plan?

Aware that in a minute or so my body would become immobilized by freezing water, at eye level I surveyed the icy surface in front of me. There were jagged edges and then smooth ice beyond. I pressed close to the edge and reached my gloved left hand and then my arm onto the surface. Then I did the same thing on the right side. Moving my legs, lifting with arms and shoulders, I tried to raise myself up.  It didn’t work. Ice fragments broke off like shards of glass. 

I had to get my body parallel to the surface to more evenly distribute weight. Again, I extended a left arm onto the ice and then holding my body as flat as possible tried to lift my lower leg up onto the ice. I don’t know how but I did it.  Now I needed to elevate the right leg over the left and slowly roll my body onto the ice. Amazingly, this maneuver succeeded. Now resting on my stomach, I was out of the water. Miraculously the ice was holding . I rolled to the right, rolled again to the right, and then again.  Now perhaps ten feet from the chasm I rose to my knees and then stood up. 

I skated quickly to the shore and hurried with mighty bounds past the rocks, across the drive, up past the big house and then with even bigger leaps down to the front door of the cottage. 

My companion couldn’t believe the pathetic visage before her. Now the frigid temperature of my body was causing shivers. Off came the skates and then every stich of the stiffening, ice-encrusted clothing.  I raced to the shower, standing without comprehension for a long time under hot water. Finally, dry clothes at hand, I emerged and tried to explain what had happened.  

About an hour later there was a knock at the door and a stately older gentleman whom we regarded as a kind of lord of the manor, stood before us. From his picture window in the next house along the secluded private road, he could view the whole of the pond and was distressed to see the big hole in the middle.  

“I looked out at the massive hole,” he said, “and wondered if a comet had dropped from the sky and plunged through the ice.” Then he thought of the young people living in Beatrice’s cottage and came over.

No, we assured him, it was just a lone skater who had fallen through the ice.  Luckily, he’s all right. #

Looking across Long Close pond in late fall

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