10 below zero. A warm spell in Jack London’s world. He wrote about 50, 70 below, when spit froze before it hit the ground.
But I had wind. Big wind. Gusts of 30 miles an hour. And I had the lake to myself. Surprise.
Fact is I love the winter. I love it when it’s bitter cold and you need to pay attention to your clothing and what you are doing and how long you keep your skin exposed. When I was a kid I used to read Jack London in the winter and would open a window and curl up under a thin blanket on my floor and imagine myself in his stories.
Side note: We were not a biscuit family. I don’t know why. My mom just never made them. So when I was really young, and I read about London’s characters getting down to their last few biscuits, I thought he meant Triscuits. So I’d go downstairs and get a couple and curl up under the blanket with a flashlight and read his stories and ration myself a third of a Triscuit. I wondered, even then, how in the world men could survive on pieces of Triscuit.
So on this day I dragged my daughter and wife and we went to the lake. They walked out 20 yards and headed back to the car. They’d have none of it. I took them home and came back with a shovel and stool and skates.
I was judicious in getting the skates on, in limiting my pictures with open hands. And then I let the wind take me.
I dodged in an out of the snow where there were crags or ruts. Using my jacket and arms, I sailed for a while, weaving in and out to follow the clear, sometimes bumpy, ice. The ice boomed as more water underneath froze, as the top ice expanded in the cold. Then, suddenly, I was hit by a blast of wind so strong it spun me around and I fell. Hard.
Yes, like an idiot, I had the camera out again.
I landed harder than I could remember, on an upcropping of ice that hammered my hip. I lay there and watched as my gloves started blowing away. I’m too old for this shit, I thought. The wind kept strong. More than a rogue gust. A change, a shift, a good 40 miles an hour. I had trouble standing. I tucked the camera in my jacket and chased my gloves. The tips of my fingers were already hurting. In just that moment, I began to realize the situation. I was almost completely across the lake. This is ludicrous, I thought; this is London territory.
My hip screamed. My other hip was also in spasm. My hands were not warming in the gloves, which had filled with snow and were now wet. For a moment, just a moment, I could feel the power of the temperature, the wind, the weather. Even on skates. Even goofing around.
I settled down. I stretched out my hips. I headed down into the wind and started my skate back. My hands warmed. My landing shore drew close. Soon I had made it. And I didn’t even need any Triscuits.
On this cold, bitter cold day, the wind and the snow and the hard ice made me feel so alive.