In Sweden, a usual family activity for those living in Stockholm or the suburbs is to go lake skating. The lakes in the archipelago are usually thicker and safer than the edge of the sea, and many families, couples, and solo skaters spend time flying across these bodies of water.
My host family took me skating last weekend. The place looked like cold. Thick and reassuring, the ice stretched from one side of this narrow lake to the other. White lines, flat perfect planes of crystal, stretched down through the gray ice. They looked like veins of a crystal. Staring at the ice beneath my feet was like getting hypnotized by a crackling fire. It was almost a meditation to stare down there as I hobbled along. There were no ice sounds here, as there would have been if we were skating on the ocean, and everything was muffled through the hat I wore under my padded helmet.
But my attention wasn’t held by the ice for very long. I hadn’t skated since I was maybe ten years old, and even then I had only skated maybe twice. Now I was in a whole new world, with long lake skates on my feet that felt like mini skis and a lake that wasn’t much like the smooth groomed surface of a skating rink. Maybe the Bambi metaphor is over-used, but I really did feel like a baby deer out there. My ankles felt like twigs, my knees shook, and all my muscles clenched to keep balance.
I ended up doing pretty well I think. Well, I was at least able to slide along using the poles. Didn’t quite master the strokes of actually moving my feet to push me along – you know, actual skating- but I was going places. The wind was so strong along that lake that we could actually sail with our bodies and fly downwind. However, Anna wisely fetched us back before we went too far. Getting back upwind at that rate would have proven to be a nightmare. She was right. It was like trying to push myself through mud. My whole body felt weak and it was far more of a struggle than I’d expected.
When I finally sat down to take a break, one of my legs started shaking so much it was jumping up and down on the ice. We all laughed at my exhausted muscles and I contented myself to sitting with my thermos of tea while the others did a couple loops around the lake. My fingers were red as I fumbled with my phone to take pictures. My host family really looked like they were flying. They used the ice as an engine, and sped anywhere they wanted to go. I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe, I’ll eventually be able to do that, if I really put the effort into learning.
My feet and hands began to get cold. The pulsing burn that is the feeling when ones toes start to freeze is a very interesting kind of pain. It’s quite bearable if you don’t think about it too much. It becomes simply a pressure on your feet that isn’t usually there – if you distract yourself, the pain disappears. Later I paid attention as my feet thawed slowly. My big toe was the last to get warm, and it was so so nice to get the feeling back.
We had a picnic on the other side of the lake. We all sat on a dock out of the wind and had hot chocolate and egg sandwiches. It was so delicious after what had been for me and exhausting morning. Eating food after such a morning is always the best- anything tastes good because you feel you’ve earned it. As you can see below, my family was impossible to get a photo of without someone blinking or moving! Oh I love them so much.
When we headed home, I wasn’t feeling the best. My whole body ached and I was surprised that my muscles were that sensitive to a new activity. I hadn’t fallen once while on the ice, and there didn’t seem to be reason for certain muscles to be paining me now. Well, if you have read my last post, you’ll know why I was feeling so wiped out and cruddy. I had the flu… But somehow, it didn’t manage to ruin such a magical experience. I can’t wait to go back with healthy strong legs and skate down that lake with birches leaning over it like nursemaids. The ice like quartz crystal. The wind a power to be harnessed and used to fly on tiny splinters of metal. I’ll be back.