The Agony and Extasy of the Middle Season

We call it the middle season. It’s sandwiched between the early-ice ecstasies of December and January; and the cautious adventures of re-formed ice in March. Then, after cold snaps, we race the daily ’slush-out’. Last season, an “El Nino” year, we didn’t have a middle season: every snowy period was quickly followed by a thaw and re-freeze. Three seasons ago, there was no re-formed ice at all, no cold snaps to give us our delicious dessert.

I’ve been cross-country skiing Megunticook every day, responding to some secret date I have with wildness and space. It’s something whose regularity I would deny, but at a certain unplanned time of day, an auto-pilot takes over. Some sort of inner completion needs to take place and I lather up my wax-less skis with “F4”, snap into them and head out, doing externally the same thing as the day before, but something which is almost always unique and new.

I’ve been watching the green-grey wet-out gradually gain on the soggy snow, listening to the skis make the many different sounds as they encounter snow, shallow hardened crystals, slush, water, and sometimes even break into ‘slush pits’ that leave me trapped ankle-deep in mush. I feel an impatience as I see the full 4 inches of snow that remains in the main body of the lake. How much thaw and rain will it take to transform this, and to level these deep snowmobile scars?

Just past “jump rock” where children scream as they launch off a high rock in summer, and chase me, swimming, as I spinnaker by; now I ski into a deep cove, strip to the waist and lay out on a sun-heated rock. The sun is so strong, the sky a blast of cloud-less blue, and the spruces and pines faintly wiggle their branch-tips in the higher air. The stillness and silence is so total. Human prancing and posturing have no place here.

A the “cliffs” section, now two miles from the launch, I reluctantly make my turn. There is still the caution of adventuring alone. There should be a breeze at this dramatic headland, but no…. nothing disturbs the zen-like stasis of this scene–except the small bubbles which occasionally purkle up in the puddles as the ice releases it’s trapped air. Where the outward leg promised adventure, the inbound promises the meditation of repetition, and the continuing fascination of the ice’s myriad surfaces. Finally I round into Bog Bay, especially slushy now, and spy the Volksy faithfully waiting.

Yes, the middle season can try our patience; but nature, and our delight in it, need have no pause. She awaits us each time we step out of our routines, silence for a few hours our mental clutter, and venture forth.

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