The Icing on the Lake

(January 2000) I was in the P&C this morning picking up some flowers for my daughter to give to her boyfriend’s mother (“Just a small arrangement,” she specified in her note) and my young, blonde, tall cashier, according to her name tag, was Lisa. And just under name was a stick-on label from the bakery, which said, “Best When Toasted!”

From there, smiling, I went and walked on water. This is the second time, and I got a lot farther than the first. Perhaps it’s because of my strengthening resolve, and also that after another week of near zero temperatures, the ice is stronger too. Slush is not encouraging when you are walking on a lake. But today, even the slushy bits were frozen, and the sun was high, and the world from out there on the ice was dazzling. About 12 men were fishing, a dog frolicked, kids pulled sleds with fishing gear, and others were just out for a walk, as I was.

When the sun got too bright for my eyes, I turned around to walk back, and there was the Village. I could see the terraced backyards, porches and boathouses of all the houses up and down E. Genesee and West Lake, and the jetty looked like the bow of a ship sailing out to us. The ice is like a billiard table now. More than once, people have moved buildings across it in the winter. Even with my jacket and boots on, I do not weigh as much as a house, and so I felt very secure. And thrilled to be there. I hope I never get bored with it.

King of the Ice 1

(February 28, 2003) The last two evenings, while walking home from work, I have been taking a left turn just past the jetty and walking out onto the ice over the lake. We have had a very cold winter in Skaneateles, and the ice is solid out into the deep water, out past the Country Club. In fact, one of my co-workers informed me that a gentleman he knows on East Lake Road walked across the lake yesterday to the Country Club.

Wednesday was a clear, sunny day, perfect for a stroll. At sunset, I was on the lake when suddenly every raised ridge of snow turned from white to gold in an instant. There were fishermen sharing the ice, and people walking their dogs. The dogs, who live in the present far better than we can manage, showed no evidence of wonderment over where this vast open field has come from, in place of the water they know in the summer.

I felt thoroughly alive, even daring, while walking on the ice, but a young woman nearby was actually running with her dog. And after, when I stopped at the liquor store for a celebratory bottle of wine, my favorite clerk informed me that people had been snowmobiling on the ice in the afternoon. And today, a ski plane landed on the ice, sat for a bit during the lunch hour, and took off again, raising the ante even higher. I’m not sure what nature of craft to expect tomorrow.

These walks on the frozen lake have reminded me of two incidents from the past that I read about months ago, on a hot summer afternoon at the Historical Society.

On January 16, 1917, one Howard B. Smith, 21 years old and known locally as “Bish,” drove onto the ice in a “specially constructed auto sled” with runners up front instead of tires. Joining him in this winter lark was Hans Pries, 26, of Auburn. The auto sled was successful in motoring across the ice, but it was not built to turn. As good ice turned to bad, Bish tried to steer but only skidded, farther and farther out, until he crashed through into the lake, where he and Hans drowned.

Some 18 years later, Linden J. Clark, son of Mr. & Mrs. Jay Clark of East Lake Road, had a better trip. The Skaneateles Press reported that on Lincoln’s Birthday, 1935, the young man skated the length of Skaneateles Lake, and back again. His round-trip of some 32 miles took more than five hours. He had to skate around cracks in the ice near Spafford, and crawl in places where the ice had buckled. But he lived to celebrate his accomplishment. Perhaps it is his spirit I feel, when I turn on the ice and look back at the Village, the buildings suddenly tiny, and my knees begin to tremble even as my smile grows wider.

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