Skating Home Backward

How one man transformed vile, polluted, dank little swamp into the perfect glassy ice pond. A Wetland Restoration Comedy.

 The following spring a black bear moved into the Jungle, attracted by its maze of hiding places and its wild raspberries. We saw him from time to time when he made his way from the vineries to drink from the Mabel. The horses would bolt in their pens, wide-eyed and snorting, but they soon grew used to bear-smell, and peace returned. I built a dock and spent the first hot afternoon of May throwing pebbles into the water for Radish to chase, an easy way to scour off the beggar's-lice he had gotten into. Then I jumped in myself for the helpless flailing I call swimming.

The Mabel froze early that fall. I fell twice trying to get down my strokes for skating backward, and my knee swelled up like a bag of microwave popcorn. After it healed I picked dead leaves off the ice every morning before they could absorb the sun and melt holes in the shape of themselves. Near Thanksgiving the heavens opened and a foot of perfect powder fell down. I thought: Snow, you bastard. I am no longer your slave.

Pheasants exploded into the air and dogs howled when I revved up my 15.5-horsepower Sears Craftsman riding mower with its automatic transmission and its Kohler Command engine and its four-foot snowplow. After I made quick work of the driveway, which pleased Kitty, I rumbled down the bank and onto the Mabel, the chains on the weighted back tires clattering ominously. In a half hour I was done. The Mabel sparkled.

The next day we had a hockey game. A dance professor accidentally smacked a crime reporter in the face with her stick and broke his nose. Radish rushed to lick the blood from the ice, rolling his eyes in pleasure.

During the holidays a horde of in-laws forgathered at Dark Acres to play cards and gossip about horses. On Christmas Eve, under a bone moon, we lit a bonfire and took to the ice for an hour of sport before our nightly games of pitch and boo-ray. Kitty looked dreamy as she sailed across the ice in her new skates.The kids sped around, hissing at the adults and pulling at Kitty's mother, whose knee pads and elbow pads and Carhartt coveralls made her look like the Michelin Man's wife.

When everyone else tired I decided to take one last spin alone. It was time. I glided to the far end of the Mabel, Radish at my side. Then, as the moon cast my shadow before me, I skated home backward.

Outside correspondent Bill Vaughn figures he's logged 3,000 miles skating on the Mabel.

From Outside Magazine, Jan 2000 Get the Latest Issue

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web