A short walk from the house where I grew up there was a pretty little pond, surrounded by weeping willows, with cattails growing along one rounded corner. I learned to skate there by pushing a small wooden chair around the ice when I was little more than a toddler.
Alas, skiing and school commitments as childhood progressed meant less time on the ice. But pond skating, in my mind, remains a quintessential part of a New England upbringing. Even my dad, who grew up a city kid in Springfield, Mass., learned how to skate — and play hockey — on a pond in a city park.
Early this week, on a bonus day of no school and no ski commitments, I headed to a local pond with my children, who are decidedly country kids. We’ve kayaked this small body of water many times, but had never been on its winter surface. Instead of painted turtles sunning themselves near the shore in the heat of a July morning, we found fox tracks pressed into the fluffy snow dusting the pond’s slick surface.
Coffin Pond (whose name is from a family moniker, so not as macabre as it seems) is close to home, quiet and has a fantastic view of the nearby mountains. It’s also shallow, which means it freezes relatively quickly; after a few days of frigid temperatures, the ice was over a foot thick and plenty safe for gliding around.
New Hampshire, of course, has myriad skating places, from hometown rinks to the ponds at grand hotels like the Mount Washington and the Mountain View Grand. There’s Puddle Dock Pond at Portsmouth’s Strawbery Banke Museum, Hanover skating hotspot Occom Pond and skating options at municipal parks like Dorrs Pond in Manchester and White Park Pond in Concord, which will host the annual Black Ice Pond Hockey Championships at the end of the month.
There are countless lakes and ponds throughout the state, and I’d guess most of them have been sliced by skate blades somewhere along the way. A few days after our skate at Coffin Pond, I heard of an acquaintance who had carried skates to a mountain pond a few thousand feet — and a long hike — above town to enjoy a remote glide across the frozen water.
My children have skated only a handful of times, and this was their first pond-skating outing. They fell — hard — a bunch that morning. But soon they figured out the balance isn’t so different than skiing, and off they went.
We did laps around the pond, pushing and gliding from one end to the other, following the contours of the frozen water, turning around the small islands that harbor songbirds in the summer, but were settled now into a winter hush. The dog wore herself out chasing the kids around the ice, sliding clumsily on this strange surface, charging over the islands to meet us at the other side.
This, I thought, is a how winter should look: colorful hats and mittens against a snow-white landscape, rosy cheeks and cold sunshine, children happily sliding across some form of frozen water.
As I write this, the temperature is rising, and a warm spell is in the forecast. We’ll retreat, for now, to the familiarity of the ski slopes and the guarantee of manmade snow there. But we’re hoping for winter’s speedy return and a few more laps around the pond.
Winter Notes is published on Fridays during ski season. Contact Meghan McCarthy McPhaul at email@example.com.