I used to skate – never on four wheels, but on silvery, knife-edged blades. I remember that first time, at a friend’s birthday party, clutching the red wooden rail around an old hockey rink with frozen, mittened fingers in a terrified death grip. I wanted so desperately to get off that solid block of frozen water and sip hot cocoa by the fire, but I persisted. I wasn’t interested in sports, or Olympic gold. I never had any drive to compete with anyone other than myself; I didn’t want to “crush the competition” so much as I wanted to grow wings. I wanted to glide and to soar. I wanted to pass that persistence on to my daughter, and I did – ten times over:
Say what you will about Millennials; I’m ready for them to take over the world.
You can thank (or curse) Mitch Mitchell for pulling me out of the winter doldrums and back to blogging:
I don’t like to beat a dead elephant, or try to harvest a field that’s gone fallow. And so, for a month and a half, I let this blog go dark. Sometimes, silence speaks louder than words. Sometimes, it is just a small, quiet space; a pond glazed over in black ice. I remember skating on Silver Lake, when I was a child – literally skating on thin ice, now marveling as an adult that my parents had the courage to let me walk alone, to the lake, skates slung over my shoulder, to do it. There was a small island in the middle of the lake, and the ice that surrounded it was smoother than a rink just after the Zamboni glides over its surface. It was deep and black as night, dotted here and there with fish that had been trapped in it as it froze.
I don’t remember having a moment’s fear, skating across that black ice. Not even when my skate blades caught or wobbled in the deep cracks – frozen, melted, frozen again – on the way out to the island. But those fish served as a reminder that a frozen lake is not a skating rink. Danger lurks in silence, just below the black ice at the deepest part of the heart of the lake.
And then there’s Niagara Falls. You wouldn’t think that water rushing at 2,271,247 liters per second could ever freeze, and you’d be right – although again, it’s been known to form ice mounds and bridges up to 50 feet thick. We get complacent, sometimes – we forget the awesome power that lurks just below the stillness:
Until 1912,visitors were allowed to actually walk out on the ice bridge and view the Falls from below. February 24th of 1888 the local newspaper reported that at least 20,000 people watched or tobogganed on the ice. Shanties selling liquor, photographs and curiosities abounded. On February 4th 1912 the ice bridge broke up and three tourists lives were lost.
Three lives lost, and 20,000 others’ carefree joy erased in a heartbeat. Must keep the tourists safe at all costs. Nature has never been “benign,” and like it or not, we are part of nature. I believe in “informed consent.” I enjoy the freedom of swimming in the vast, Atlantic Ocean with sharks. We should all have the freedom to walk on thin ice, realizing, of course, that there are consequences.
Nature fights back. Maybe that’s why she’s called, “Mother Nature.” As all good mothers, she nurtures and sustains us, but she won’t hesitate to box our ears if we step out of line. “I brought you into this world,” she seethes, “and I can’t take you out of it again!” Unlike most human mothers, though, she means that literally.
I gave a persuasive speech, this week, to my Toastmasters club. I think I convinced all but three widely-grinning members that we needed to urge Congress – now – to ban dihydrogen monoxide. Not one “fake fact” was given, either. Just technical, chemical jargon, a bit of exaggeration, and an intense appeal to emotion. These are smart people, by the way – not an ignoramus in the bunch. At the end, I reassured them: Although Congress has refused to act in the past, the threat to oil production has caused them to finally take notice; the Dakota Access Pipeline should take care of that pesky DHMO problem, once and for all.
Like water spilling over Niagara Falls, quiet words, backed by conviction, can be thunderously powerful.
And for all the real men who read this blog:
Sometimes, though, it’s too much – real writers’ words aren’t always profound and powerful. How exhausting, how tiresome, that would be! Words are not only powerful, they can be childlike and playful. Childlike, playful words need to be nurtured and coaxed, discouraged from turning mean and cruel, when the world itself seems too full of angry adults and endless arguments. I started college when I was twelve; the real irony of it was, while some adults worried that I wouldn’t have a childhood, it allowed me to have one. Real adults allow each other to be themselves; unlike insecure adolescents, they nurture the diversity that exists within all of us. In college, unlike middle- and high-school, I felt free to breathe and be me. We humans are herd animals; there’s safety in numbers. But we also long to stand out and to gallop, unfettered, alone, across an open field. There’s safety in the herd, but there is also that soul-crushing tedium of sameness. If only the herd could truly appreciate and cultivate its constituents’ unique and quirky qualities, all of us beasts might be happier and healthier.