A mild, sugary snow started to fall, tiny, lackadaisical flakes spilling from the gathering skies and tickling the already numb faces. I had been outside three or four hours now, temperatures in the low teens, it’s been that kind of winter. But – as the adage goes – there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. And I was clothed properly and fortresslike, comfortably watching the girls twirling across the pond on their skates, oblivious to the gathering darkness, dipping temperatures, and the honored strictures of dinnertime, cleanup, chores, and bedtime.
Earlier Alison had wanted to learn to plow the driveway and so, after a few minor repairs on the Kawasaki, we took it out for a spin. Two, maybe three, inches of powdery snow coated the drive and it would be easy work for the machine and for the operator. I showed her how to rotate and drop the blade and she took off slowly, gingerly down the driveway, bundled and hooded tightly, me less so – I prefer full peripheral vision and all hearing faculties available in these kinds of conditions, doing these kinds of tasks.
The blade stuttered loudly over the rock-frozen earthen driveway as it pushed the snow away. I always marvel at these machines, the jobs they perform, the sheer man-hours of labor they replace. So much toil and sweat eliminated in exchange for a few dollars of depreciation, a couple drops of gasoline, and the chance of a few randomly distributed hours of spot troubleshooting. It’s generally a good deal.
The grinding and bumping had Alison in a state of heightened discomfort and she repeated through jarring teeth, as if some daily affirmation “I don’t like this, I don’t like this, I don’t liiiiike this….” We rode the half-mile down and the half-mile back in a matter of minutes.
I then turned my attention to clearing the pond. I don’t like to linger on the ice sitting in a 2,000 lb. rig and so I made haste. What would take four kids armed with shovels and skates an hour or two – not counting a lengthy hot chocolate break – took me just 10 minutes.
We strung a couple strands of party lights between the pondside oaks and then cut holes in the ice to pump and resurface the rink. I paused here and there to listen to a distant train horn – Amtrak carrying a handful of passengers home from Chicago from the sound of it – and to observe the intermittent jet traffic overhead. By all accounts I should have been on one of those planes, headed to the biggest of the annual apartment investment conferences, but this year I opted out. Too many people spread too thinly across too many meetings consuming too many libations amidst too much Waldorf Astoria. And a feeling that – no matter how much Mom told you how special and unique you truly are – you’re just one of 8,000 other smartly dressed middle-aged men looking for the same exact thing in the same exact place.
And so I was glad to be home this one time.
Just the week before, in warmer temperatures and softer snow, I left the family for a set of distant meetings. I paused as I descended the driveway. Bright, waning sun and crisp outlines of kids in colorful skating gear, earnestly shoveling – the perpetual price of rink ownership – preparing for an early-evening filled with that oddly-pleasing symphony of low temperatures, clear skies, friends, laughter, metal, and ice. A promise of crêpes for supper, loaded with Nutella, fresh cream, and warm berries. Hawaiian music from the Bose speakers, and a warm fire crackling in the hearth.
You only get so many of those evenings. That glimpse stayed with me awhile, making for an especially painful drive to the airport and a longer-than-usual flight.
So when the girls looked up from their dancing and twirling and saw me sitting on the frozen dock watching in the glint of the newly-hung party lights, they asked me if it was time to go in.
Nah, I said, go on, skate a little longer, I’ll just sit here and watch.