Over the last few years, a small network of wilderness skaters developed organically around Beaver Pond. We group-text and email each other to exchange information on the ice condition on a few different ponds and lakes, and meet up to skate together. One of us, Arn Krugman, is a wilderness educator and guide who divides his time between Western Massachusetts and Woodstock. He teaches at Primrose Hill School, a Waldorf school in Rhinebeck, and brings his students out to skating. I am sharing two of his emails below, which beautifully illustrate the spirit of wilderness skating.
Dear Fellow Skaters,
I was bemoaning the fact that I had to leave Mass. this week because skating was so incredible back there, but this afternoon at Beaver Pond I had a most extraordinary experience. It wasn’t just that there was a lot of nice ice—I witnessed one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen while skating—and over the decades I’ve seen a lot of great sunsets. I have to go late because of work, and that time of day does offer great light and occasional award winning sunsets. The colors kept getting better with each phase, and there was still a glow over the mountains, a faint blue sky, and subtle purple in the clouds at 5:30. By that time the three-fifths moon, not yet gibbous, was lighting up the pond, and I knew I could skate longer without my headlamp. I’ll take my class there in the morning.
Dear Class Parents,
Today’s skating trip at Yankeetown Pond was probably the most successful thus far in terms of enthusiasm. I had expected the cold morning temps. to compel some students to ask for a relatively early departure from the ice. However, when I stated that we should start heading back after more than two hours on the pond, one student shouted, “No, I don’t want to go!” Another said, “I could skate here all day!” Besides the beautiful setting and excellent ice conditions, two particular aspects seemed to create excitement and capture their collective imagination.
The first were the narrow pathways around and through a multitude of small islands all covered with leather leaf bushes. It was fun and different to skate all over the place on such winding passageways with beaver lodges everywhere. At another pond I know in Mass. with similar possibilities people call those “The Mazes.”
The second attraction which proved to be especially intriguing were the “science labs” as they were dubbed by someone. The black ice was so translucent that the students began to lie on the ice and stare into the water world beneath them. First someone screamed, “Salamanders!” Then I heard, “This is awesome! There are strange creatures down there!” From then on, groups of students were lying in special spots between the tiny islands studying the winter aquatic life under the ice.
They were mystified and fascinated by what they saw and I was hard-pressed to identify the weird looking critters they discovered. So many times I heard students yell, “Look at this!” Some of the attention grabbing subjects were caddisfly larvae encased in strands of straw and grass they had woven together with their own sticky substances. Then there were other worldly little beings with many appendages that rendezvoused just beneath the ice.
There were several other sightings I couldn’t verify, but in the end, I think some students spent more time investigating in the “science labs” than skating. Someone flying overhead would certainly have wondered why there were these odd configurations on the ice—like pinwheels—all heads in the center and feet pointing outward, as they were all intently and excitedly searching for signs of life. I thought it was a winter version of tide pools, where the water’s so clear and unexpected treasures await.