Thursday, January 04, 2007

January Thaw

The term “January Thaw” came to my mind recently. It is a term I haven’t thought of since I moved out here. What it was, was a major inconvenience to any kid who lived in a cold climate where this happened. For me, New Jersey fit the bill.

OK, here in Oregon there are two types of weather, rainy from October 1 – July 4, and Sunny and dry from July 5- September 30. So here people do what they want to do all year, but in New Jersey we had a season for summer things, swimming and cycling, fall was foot ball, spring was baseball and winter was skating.

Shortly after the last football game of the year, which was Thanksgiving Day, our ponds would start to freeze and would be skateable long before Christmas. If you outgrew your skates from a previous year, there was still time to petition for a new pair before the 25th.

Our ponds would freeze very well and all the kids in town would meet at the ponds closest to where they lived. If it snowed, no problem, everyone would show up with snow shovels and we’d clear the surface in no time. The funny thing was that it was rare that any kid would voluntarily shovel their own drive way or side walk, but our pond was always clear. After a heavy snow the town road department would plow the ponds with a jeep with a plow. Every once in a while they’d fall through the ice and need to be towed out.

All was always well and good until the second week of January when the weather would warm up and everything would melt. All the snow and all the ice would disappear for a week or so. It was hell for kids because the roads were too wet to ride bicycles, the fields were too wet to play ball on. It was just a mess with nothing to do. However, after a week or so the temperature would drop again and the ice would return to the ponds of three more months. We would be out there every possible moment after school. On weekends we would before the sun came up and we would stay past 10pm. We would warm ourselves by a bon fire.

There was a great social structure on the ice. The better skaters were looked up to, but those of lesser skills were not looked down upon. Everyone skated with their age appropriate groups.

There were people who dared to skater close to the dam where there was what we called rubber ice. This ice would never freeze solid, and the weight of the skater could make the ice dip under the water that was open between the dam and the edge of the ice.

There were the other daring people that would ascend the hill besides the pond and ski down the snowy slope with their skates and over a dock at the edge of the pond. The skater would fly through the air like an Olympic ski jumper, landing on the ice with enough momentum to carry you across the pond to the fire.

Our town and the local Lions Club even sponsored an ice carnival each march where there were races and expositions.

Here on the coast of Oregon it never freezes like that. We will have a frosty night once in a while. If it snows it will last rarely any longer than two days. In order to share the magic of skating with your children you need to drive them to a mall in Portland where it is warm and safe. It isn’t really skating the way I know it. It is more like walking in circles on a slippery surface.

To me skating means feeling the ice crack under you occasionally. Finding a place where the ice is so clear that you can see aquatic life below. It’s the cold wind and the bon fires. It is seeing fifty kids with gloves, mittens and brightly colored hats and scarves. To me it is a right of passage and a means of becoming independent.


Blogger Beth said...

This post brought back a lot of memories. I remember skating at the local outdoor rink and by the time I got home my feet would be frozen. I'd be crying as I removed my skates. But always went back the next day.
Here in Toronto we have't yet had a good snowfall, let alone frozen outdoor rinks. I feel sorry for the kids.

7:27 AM  
Blogger RobbKidd said...

I rember skating on the pond in the backyard in NJ, now the temperature barely stays consisently cold to even walk on the ice. I just read reports here in VT that people are falling in the ice since it barely stays cold long enough for ice to formulate. Global Warming appears to be a reality...

7:34 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Beth and Robb, there is even a problem in your Northern latitudes? Damn that's really bad. I have been told that the pond I skated on no longer freezes. It was blamed on polution, I figured street run-off since there were no major industrial sources up stream.

My father skated on that same pond when he was a child, and the problem back then was that the cinders from the steam locomotives on the near by tracks would fall on the ice and would burn holes and leave suit on the surface making it impossible to skate.

I guess that the US will wake up to the warming when ice fishing ends in the Midwest. Nothing pisses of a midwesterner more than not being able to escape to the ice fishing shack for several months.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Zoe said...

Sounds like a blast. Didn't anyone play hockey?

8:37 AM  
Blogger Amaya said...

What a great memory. Do you think kids in NJ still do that? It sounds so nostalgic...

10:23 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

New Jersey is several hundred miles from Canada, so no, we never even got word that there was such a thing. We bacame aware of it with some strange cultural invasion in the early 80s. We had never heard of soccer either. After the 80s there was a rash of hooliganism directly realted to the introduction of these two sports. Things have never been the same since. The ponds no longer freeze and I moved away.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Boo7 said...

wow NJ sounds alot like southern Ontario most years....this year we have had no snow and no real cold temps to speak of....really was 13C....unheard's really messing with the wildlife too who are all confused and befuddled with the warm weather!!

8:19 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Having driven the NY Through Way and the North Way often, there were certain climate changes one would see the further north one went. Every 50 miles or so the temp would drop. Above Lake George winter was winter all winter. Looks like no more, though. Pretty sad.

12:20 PM  

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