Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ice Skating

We’ve had a week of above freezing weather, the temperature climbing into the low 50s one day. The snow is in fast retreat. When I was a kid we looked forward to these winter thaws, not only because warmer weather made doing farm chores a little easier, but because the hollows on the farm filled with melt water. When winter returned, and it always did, the ponds in the hollows froze and we had ice skating ponds.

When I was eleven years old or so, I was introduced to ice skating after one of these winter thaws created a couple acre pond in the big hayfield across the road from our farmstead. When the pond froze, Pa asked my brothers and me one Saturday morning whether we’d be interesting in learning how to ice skate. We had no ice skates at the time, so were a bit perplexed by Pa’s question.

That Saturday afternoon, while Ma was trading for groceries (she traded eggs for groceries at the Mercantile in Wild Rose), Pa, my brothers and I walked down the street to Hotz’s Hardware. Pa inquired about ice skates, the kind that you clamp on the bottom of your shoes with a little key. He bought three pair, fifty cents a pair.

Later that afternoon, when we were back home, my brothers and I trekked down to the pond, clamped on our shiny new skates and quickly discovered that there was nothing easy about ice skating. We were on our backsides more often than we were upright. At suppertime, Pa inquired about our skating success and we told him we’d probably go back to sledding. The next day Pa came with us to the pond, we wondered why. Once there, he said he’d like to try skating. As an old man, he was in his forties, we thought he’d probably fall and break something. And we’d have more chores to do.

We shouldn’t have worried. Pa made a couple swings around the pond, his hands behind his back, a smile spreading across his face. He slid to a stop,commenced skating backwards, and then cross stepped going backwards. Not once did he fall. Not once. My brothers and I just stood there with our mouths hanging open. “Not much to ice skating,” he said. “Does take a little practice, though.”

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: The only way to lose is to quit.


My newest book, CAMPFIRES AND LOON CALLS: TRAVELS IN THE BOUNDARY WATERS is in the bookstores. My son, Steve and I have canoed in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota for 25 years. This is our story. Go to: for more information, including an interview.


March 2, 7:00 p.m. River Falls Library. Smithsonian’s “Key Ingredients: America By Food.” Farming History.

March 5, 3:00 p.m. City Hall, Platteville (Old Farm).

March 5, 7:00 p.m. Mining Museum-405 E. Main, Platteville: (Horse Drawn Days.)

March 6, 2:00 p.m. Pioneer Dinner, Milton House Museum, Milton: Remembering our Rural Heritage.

March 9, 11:45-12:30 Larry Meiller Show, Wisconsin Public Radio: Campfires and Loon Calls.

March 11, 5:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 12, 3:30 p.m. Canoecopia, Alliant Center, Madison: Campfires and Loon Calls.

March 15, 10:30 a.m. Eager Free Library, Evansville, WI.

March 15, 7:00 p.m. Barnes and Noble, Madison West. Launch for Campfires and Loon Calls.

March 17, 2:00-4:00. Monroe Arts Center, Monroe. Memories into Memoirs—Writers’ Workshop.

March 17, 7:00 p.m. Monroe Arts Center. Our Rural Heritage.

March 20, 7:00 p.m. Lebanon Historical Society, Fire Station, New Lebanon. Horse Drawn Days.

March 29, 7:00 p.m. Manawa Public Library, In a Pickle.

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