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The Blog Brothers

Two Black-Irish-American brothers from the mythical city of Albany, New York ponder their 20th century adventures from either side of the Pacific Ocean; Bob in Kyoto, Japan and Mick in Santa Barbara, California.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Through the Looking-Glass

Maybe the combined talents of Ansel Adams and Vincent vanGogh could have captured enough of the imagic of that full-moonlit night on the sleek frozen river to merit mounting on a wall in a room somewhere with flash lighting, but as for the night itself, all it was and meant, forget it.

That mythic experience took place 50 years ago now, when things were less crowded in general (we were then being taught in school that the world population was 2 billion people); but even so, skating was never as uncrowded as it was that night on the river. My memory of it is tinged with the feeling of going out into the icicle-air of no streetlights like we had in the city, the only-the-moonlight of the countryside, the long glass river a mirror blown clear of snow by winter winds, and the feeling involved in sitting on the banks and lacing up before we actually began skating on a diamond...

All our previous growing-up skating had been fanatically done on artificial city park ponds that were flooded each winter by the fire department, as in Lincoln Park, or earlier for us, the small playground rink up behind Public School 23 (near where I'd shot out the streetlight). But though we had grand and frantic times on those rinks, they were always crowded and the ice rough and well used, with edges in every direction.

Every deep skater's dream is to skate on ice as smooth as the top of a diamond for as far as they want to, without crowds around; we were in that dream come true, we were gliding through skaters' heaven on the river that night, could have skated a good part of the way to New York City if we'd wanted, being young and lithe and full of strength and energy in that moment's paradise as we were, on that gleaming highway between shore and island, gathering a lifetime's worth of memory in a single night...

One of the things I remember most intensely was the power of that moon way up there in the dark blue night air among the stars, and how it lit up the ice, silversleek as far as the eye could see downriver, our skates making that special gem-quality ice sound of fresh perfection that all skaters yearn for, that deep, crisp, unchecked boom to the bladed feet as we moved along smoothly as ever we had in our lives: we could go and go, skate along this silver mirror as far as our hearts desired, twirling and swooping, racing and gliding then scraping to a halt in splendid sprays of white and going on again, miles and miles -- it was the paradise of ice, until a few miles along I plunged through the mirror.

I'd skated over toward shore, probably in my usual way daring the ice, when the ice took up the challenge and one of my legs went through about up to my thigh. The water was only about as cold as liquid nitrogen, nothing for a teenager of those days. I managed to roll myself out and skate onto the thicker ice toward the center of the river with one pantsleg icicling fast. I kept warm by skating hard, not wanting the experience to end. For a while after I was the one who fell through the ice on the river that night, but I've always thought of it as the night I skated on a diamond river, stretching out unending beneath the high full moon like the magic road to this whole lifetime...

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