“The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!”
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge
She stepped onto the ice just as the sun dipped behind the mountain. It was a cold night, and for that she was grateful. The lake was certain to be solid. She skated her way into the vast expanse of frozen water, and waited expectantly for the moon to rise, but it hid behind the mountain and then was covered by clouds.
In the South, Venus beckoned high in the sky, and drew her closer, toward what little light remained in the day as the puck was passed from person to person.
She didn’t play. It was enough to be on the water–instead of in it. Up until this moment, falling through the ice had been her worst fear. The truth was that it still terrified her; only now, she was equally enamored by daring to stand upon it.
Tonight’s skate held none of the distractions of her first time–just the week before–when the light was golden and the ice was covered with fresh snow–kindly hiding the cracks and ridges, not to mention those small, circular, dark… holes?
(Were they holes? Had there been several fisherman? Dozens? Her young son made this claim each time they came upon one; but she knew it couldn’t be so. Hardly a soul had been out on the lake this year. Yesterday it had been in the forties.)
On that afternoon a week ago, her blades etched designs in the fresh snow and delighted her with each stroke and curl. First she skated out her name, and then those of others–the children, and the other mother–the one who skated in her skirt and woolens, way out into No Man’s Land, past the beach where they summered, and all the way toward the reeds where the kayakers would paddle.
She continued writing, carefully crafting a “C”, and kept her eye on Carol; and on each of the children, holding them not only in her view, but in the protection of her expanded awareness.
This night was too dark to do the same, and so she endeavored to remain near them, in the middle of their game and around it; not only to keep them safe, but to feel safer herself. Often one or two of them would make proximity impossible–disappearing in the dark, toward the landing, a quarter mile away.
A half-hour later, she made the journey there herself, to share some dinner in the company of her son, but once he was handed a hockey stick, he darted back into the dark night, leaving her… alone.
She rushed to pack up her basket and slip on her mittens, but just as she began to skate into the night toward them, she heard it. A rumbling so loud it shook the sky and echoed on every bank, and in every curve and crevice–west and east and north and south–until they all came racing toward her–just as moon lit up the ice.
“We felt that,” the other mother cried.
“The ice cracked in a circle around me,” her son added.
She smiled and laughed with relief, turning with them toward the landing, and then paused–lingering a moment with the moon.
She was relieved to have missed it–the feeling of it underneath her, the uncertainty, the great vastness of something bigger than herself; but she was equally riveted by being so close to something so consuming.
Nights later, it stirs her still. She does research about ice and discovers that frozen water moans and groans like this with each shift in temperature.
She thinks back to the growing pains of this past year–to the wondrous openings that both thrilled and terrified her–and she understands… this is how it feels to expand.
~Kelly Salasin, January 2012
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“...In that hazarding, you take a step onto surfaces that
you’re not sure will hold your weight…
keeping the depth of your attention on what calls you…
this is the kind of courage it takes to claim
your happiness in life.”
(Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, David Whyte)