A return to Iceboating

It had been almost two months since I had set foot on ice when Lloyd called, wondering if I were still alive, and reporting possible good ice on Damariscotta. The reasons for my absence were two-fold. For one thing, an illness in my family had brought me into a pain so intense that iceboating seemed a superfluous sidetrack. For another, we iceboaters were caught in the dilemma of either driving great distances for good ice, or banging around on total SXXX.

But the day’s schedule could be tweaked, so I tracked down the gear–now an easier job with a trailer already loaded with boat stuff–and drove with that erstwhile heart flutter of expectation, in the 20 degree bright morning sun to the lake.

I was prepared to sniff the ice and head home, given the evangelical inflation of ice conditions Lloyd is so prone to; but the the ice was far better than I expected. To my fresh, hungry eyes it was just fantastic. And a great crowd turned up: Lloyd, Bill Bunting, Scotty, Dave Fortier, Curtis, Chris Conory, our dynamic duo from Canada, Dave Fowle, Fred, a rambling iceboater from Maryland, and two or three others. I swung off the emergency brake, battled the light airs near the launch, and soon was hurtling across ice both smooth and occasionally scabbed. It was ice that, fueled as we were by ice deprivation, immediately lured us into going faster than was wise.

I soon teamed up with Curtis in Indigo, and we blasted in tandem toward the South. I was determined not to pass south of the narrows, until we had recruited a quorum of those who might want to explore. Many folks did not know the wonders of the south of this lake. Hmmm. I’ll just test how going thru the narrows is, with this wind. But with Curtis, right on my tail, being a perfect stand-in for the bad influence of Bill Buchholz, we stitched downwind before the lovely NW breeze, over-jibing to wind her up each time and maintaining a wonderful boat speed. Soon we were on extra-smooth ice in the sequence of bays and broads to the south.

With Curtis keeping close station, I felt the mounting mania. I saw that another iceboat had also gotten thru the narrows. We should loop back and herd him along. But I was gripped with bad-boy insanity. This was the absolute orgasm of iceboating. We immediately headed for our beloved SW arm of the lake, that long tricky, less windy, downwind 5 mile passage. None of the usual pressure ridges are in sight! This lake is totally bullet-proof! Crash! I dropped the starboard runner in the unseen pressure-ridge which marks the beginning of the SW Arm. My blinding mania deflated like a punctured tire. Luckily, Curtis had tools and screws, and with the rig, unharmed and still standing, we refastened the screws into the plank and, miraculously sailing again, headed for the calm and sun of Deep Cove.

There we sat on a south-facing rock in the bright 1PM sun. Total calm. Total silence. Our boats motionless near the shore. That surreal brightness. My soul, wounded by family pain, sucked it up. An IV of deep nourishment was rushing into my veins. Finally, sharing the last of the banana bread, and fearing the possible loss of wind while so far from home, we guessed and goshed our way out thru the cove’s fluky winds, explored the wide Muscongus Bay arm of the lake, and then easily beat back north through the narrows, savoring the smooth ice as we passed.

Back at the pits, boat gear was breaking dramatically on all sides. I took an absolutely delightful spin in Cheapskate–that quiet, gentle kitten–which easily floats you along, almost like a human body alone in space. It was just the come-down I needed from the earlier adrenalin rushes. I then left my boat on the ice. I’ve just got to–got to!–do this again.

P.S. I can’t help wondering what’s exactly in that nourishing IV drip. What is it that so sooths a troubled soul? I know I’ve quoted this Wendell Berry poem before:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Can bashing an ice machine into a hole, or sitting in a silent, sun-drenched cove be a “wild thing”? And can that “bad-boy” energy, so hard to stop, be the drive to rest ‘in the grace of the world’?

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