My basic expectation of any ice season is to be on Plymouth Pond on December 8. And on average, that is usually about right. So today, I was settling into a lovely afternoon nap when the phone rang. It was our wonderful new Plymouth spy, Tim Smith, who had just chopped a 4″ hole thru solid ice at the landing. I immediately called Bill.
Jory: I have crushing news! Do you have a handkerchief handy?
Bill: Wait! let me sit down a minute! Death in the family?
Jory: We missed Plymouth Pond! 4″ of black ice!
Then recriminations flew back and forth about exactly whose fault it was, until, with a sigh, it became clear that we were equally asleep at the switch. 1:40 PM….what to do? Get the hell up there! So we sped up north at high speed, telling Plymouth Pond stories and eagerly looking for the landmarks…..dixmont, home stretch….the water tower, one more hill….and there it was, grey in the afternoon sun. Driving by, it looked like Moby Dick’s old whale hide: drain holes, orange peel surface, sticks and stones. I half expected a harpoon to be lodged at an angle.
But Tim was right–a solid 4″–so we strapped on skates, Bill assembled his Skimbat, and we started swinging our ice axes, as we made our way out into deeper water. Hooray! After weeks of piddling ice, something was solidly talking back to our swings! Soon we came to smoother ice, without orange peel, which measured noticeably less than 4″: 2.5″! Bill abandoned the skimbat, as our worries increased, and I headed back to the pits for a forgotten pair of claws. This was not going to be bullet-proof ice!
Once we were back together again–Bill not having moved an inch in my absence– we espied two areas about 2′ in diameter, just faintly different from their surroundings, which turned out to be only 3/4″ thick! We made a note to mark them later, and–still gripped by ‘early ice extasy’– continued on the 2.5″ ice to the South. We soon found that the ice was far from monolithic: it was a potpurri of textures, overlapping plates, and brash ice sandwiches; which occasionally measured as little as 1.5″ thick. It was almost impossible, in this variety of surfaces, to spot the ice junctions which are so vital to see and check. Then, a moment of total panic set in: It suddenly seemed like we were surrounded on all sides by dangerous, unknown, unpredictable ice. A high-stakes roulette game with nasty odds. We gingerly turned around and, inspecting the glassy black ice carefully, exactly followed our skate scratches back to the launch area, where we skated and skimbatted safely in the light air, keeping to the 2 acre patch of 4″ thick orange peel ice.
As the sun set, we packed up and headed south, thanking our stars that we had not, after all, missed Plymouth. Plymouth at this stage is a disaster ready to happen. There was no pre-season free lunch. But she’ll probably be waiting for us, after this next warm spell, with the better kind of adventure we so long for.