Ice inspires poetry: dreaming of it, anticipating it, sailing it, regretting it, cherishing its rarity….there are just certain situations when you have to break into pentameters…..prose won’t contain the feelings. What follows is pretty humble fare. Doggerel might be a better word than poetry. See what you think. But for those of us inside this intense passion, these words might bring a knowing smile.
Our season really starts in October-November, before we’re actually on the ice, with anticipation and the intrusion of dreams. Soon we will be checking the thin ice with micrometers on our ‘first freezers’, the ponds which are shallower, at higher altitude, or north of us. Sterling Pond is an almost mystical little pond at high altitude in Vermont.
November’s Dream by Jory Squibb
They say that old men dream of beasts, and things we did of yore.
I sometimes dream of Bounty Bay, and the girls we knew ashore
And sometimes too of the forty nights and the lonely lonely days
Between Madeira and New York, when a ship seems locked in stays
And now life’s fire more slowly burns–is it strange that I should dream
Of tiny alpine Sterling Pond, that these eyes have never seen?
I called the ski resort nearby, my question soon was quelled
A worker there excited told: the little pond had jelled!
I called a buddy, next morn at 6, we hustled West and soon
We parked the car at Smuggler’s Notch, just as my watch read noon.
A fool’s trip–the odds were slim–in a land of famous snow,
That a pond could grow a three-inch plate, before a flake could blow
And let’s just say we both get wet, with November’s early night
We’d never retrace the snowy trail, and get our car in sight
But sometimes when those cautious thoughts will come and threaten a stall
Some primal urge from deep within, will trump them one and all.
So up we hiked with skates and axe, crossed the final ridge at one
Came ’round a bend, and found at last, the reason we had come
I’ve seen lakes blue in a summer’s sun, or rippled grey with wind
I’ve seen them sparkle, dazzling white–twin lenses needed then.
But now I sat on the rocky shore, the tears would not stay back
That I should in old age be blessed to see this glistening black.
I scanned the lake, shaped like a “T”, and saw from shore to shore
There was no gap, no rippled gap, in the ice I stood before.
At last I swung my ice-axe down and saw that star-shaped crack
I swung again and heard the slurp that two inch ice speaks back.
And so we sat on our private rock, and opened the snacks and rum
And thanked our stars–Oh, what the Hell!–we sure were glad we’d come
One of our early members of the CIBC was Larry Hardmann, a man of legendary daring and gusto. He wrote a wonderful poem for this time of year, as we anticipate the cold to come:
by Larry Hardman
When Old King Cold’s reach is bold,
Down from his frozen lair,
It’s then we sleep in covers deep
and shiver upon the stair.
It’s then some curse their northern berth
In Earthship’s stinging air,
And dream of spring, when songbirds sing,
and the land is sweet and fair.
But not us guys with goggled eyes
And helmets on our hair!
We like the ice, rough or nice,
Here, or way out there.
We like wool socks, we iceboat jocks,
We like the land that’s bare.
We like a gale, a straining sail,
No matter when or where.
For us the summer is a bummer.
The spring it is a bore.
And, about all we get from the fall
Is thinking what’s in store!
When timber’s in the ‘ol wood bin,
And felt is on the door,
It’s a lot funner to sharpen a runner
Than any other chore.
The temperature’s seven? To us, that’s heaven.
We wish for seven below.
We disdain thermometer gain,
And we despise the snow.
Sleek as an otter smooth, hard water.
In glee we watch it grow.
The pond it skims. The lake it rims.
We take a step and Oh!
We hear it crack. We jump back,
And wait a day or so.
Two knuckles deep, then on we’ll creep,
And RACING we will go!
Then our first season opens, running from late November to about January 10. We often spend part of it on nearby Plymouth Pond, but also take road trips we call ‘cherchez la glace’ trips to other parts of New England. This snippet is from one of those trips, written in the lovely mellow time after we’ve re-loaded our boats. Massabesic Lake is a little jewel near Manchester, NH.
drop the sail….
we’ve lived the tale….
to carry to the shore….
as runners sing no more….
nor strain against the gale…
and the lake….
the purple sky….
darkens on the joys…
a day out with the boys….
now ending with a sigh…
The Middle Season
This season stretches usually from middle January to early March, and it drives us crazy. During this time our beautiful ice is battling with our arch-enemy: snow. We get little windows of ice resurfaced by thaws and rains, but it’s often a difficult time. There’s always cross-country skiing to take up the slack, but it hardly measures up:
skiing along the woodland trail
with every tree abloom with snow
by even the slightest wind untouched
how this thrilled me year on year
as sleepy orange morning sun
day-glow paints the highest tops.
this morning though, this wing-clipped bird
hops so sadly, sadly hops
remembering days of mystic flight
when once we swooped our borrowed wings
cross endless plains of glorious ICE.
During this time, as we try to find little windows of ice activities, we are especially obsessed with weather prediction:
ode to a thermometer
oh, little box on the eastern wall
day and night, your rise and fall
controls our actions, controls our minds
controls the fun an iceman finds
so today, at half past six
will you whisper yea or nix
the puddles heal, the clatter hush
WILL YOU JELL THAT AWFUL MUSH?
and yet you haven’t the final word
many’s the time your truth i’ve heard
and, venturing out, I’ve spurned my plight
and there, in long-shadowed, yellow light
the ice had heeded ice below
some mystery had cooled it, so
I donned the gear and raised the sail,
I gave a push, I waived a hail
as battens snap to the downwind side
and, without a crunch, the runners glide
I vaulted in, to my cosy nest
pulled the sheet to my heaving chest
I thanked my boat as it gathered speed.
and swore again that I’d never heed
the yea’s and nay’s of a mercury tube
while life still rolls…. its numbered cube.
But while we sometimes get an unexpected sail, it’s just as likely to go the other way:
weatherman, weathergirl, make me some ice
with narry a wrinkle, oh wouldn’t it be nice?
for four days i cursed out your snow and your rain
and yesterday’s tropics sure were a pain
but this morning the mercury shouts 24
i’ve found all the gear, and shot out the door.
my pulse, it was touching that dangerous cliff
my breathing was shallow, and life was an if
but i got to the lake as the sun topped the trees
i saw not a puddle! got weak in the knees!
i hammered the shoreline, it was thick as could be
but 20 steps latter, what should i see?
the lake served a sandwich of water and ice
a trap for the blissful, which didn’t seem nice
in between you could skate for a week without fail
but then in an instant your head and your tail
would quickly change places, and just quick as that
a old bone or two probably break with a snap
so i sadly turned round one hundred eighty degrees
i thought now of breakfast, i thought of my knees
and swore that tomorrow, there’s be nothing to do
but come to a lake, with a buddy or two
and life will be sweet, and our season be saved
and we’ll follow our passion to the edge of our grave
And when we see a window of opportunity about to close, there’s an especial motivation to get in one last sail:
Before the Storm
I must go down to the ice again
to the sun, and the blue, blue sky
where a runner, a skate, or a cleated boot
is the key to a door flung wide
where the troubles of land are left on land:
the job and the list of chores
and the only challenge that’s left to face
is to move toward the distant shores
the bay was a patchwork of ice and snow
when I got there just at one
and the snow was bonded well to the ice,
the prospect was poor for fun.
so I ditched the skates, and ditched the sail
and walking would be my game
and when I got to the vast South Broads
my world was not the same:
the wind blew streamers of snow across
grey ice like polished stone
and I lay on my back with the wind behind
and my face like a sun-warmed bone
I’d clear my decks! I’d sail this day!
shout “Fie!” to tomorrow’s blow
and every thing I had now to do
would go better when spiced with snow
But a friend was battling cancer
a fight too well I knew
and sure enough I had promised
to help with the kitchen crew.
So I made this day a special day
when I could have sailed, but no:
I helped a friend skating one-inch ice
when I had a foot below
This ice is lovely, shiny, deep
but I my promises will keep
and pray that when, we’ve ice again
that skill and strength will still remain
Finally in early march, as the sun grows stronger, the days longer, the overall thaw gives us “spring ice” and we get a final week or so of gleeful sailing. We wear less gear, but have to start the days early, because the daily rise in temperature will ‘slush-out’ the surface at some point during the day. The ice is sometimes rougher, and the larger boats, the “skeeter” class, rumbles across it more comfortably. Here’s Larry Hardman again:
‘OL BEAU SKEETER
by Larry Hardman
Did you ever sail ‘ol Beau Skeeter
With plenty of air and room?
did you ever sail faster or sweeter
When bending a wooden boom?
Well, one spring morn, on ice like corn,
Some pals of mine and I
Set up at night, by car light,
To wait for the stars to die.
“There ain’t no air,” said one of the pair,
Him bein’ new to the sport,
And the other guest needed more rest,
So he was sleepy and short.
“If you have ice, that will suffice,”
Is what I ‘Coulda said.
“For air you wait, and if it’s great,
It’s worth missin’ a little bed.
So the coffee steamed, and the sleepy head dreamed,
And the sky began to lighten,
And the little teletales, up there in the sails,
Began to frisk and fighten.
“Now for some fun!” said the other one,
The red head they called Jim,
As wisps of frost were torn and tossed
From off the piney limb.
I’d never guess that the Mount Washington express
Would ride to the sea that day,
Like it did, when I was a kid,
Over east in Jordan Bay.
But the breeze that wiggled those trees
Was just a spit in the river.
Just the vanguard of a wall so hard
It made the tree tops shiver.
Now for instance, way off in the distance,
Along each pine pointed shore,
There begain to advance, like an avalanche,
A misty, roiling horror.
What could it mean? I’d never seen
Wind boil frost off the land,
While over the ice it was clear and nice,
As quiet as wavin’ your hand.
Bees within a culvert of tin
Is how I recall that sound,
Before it sturck, like a berserk truck,
With a roar that shook the ground.
Now the edge of the shore was ledge,
And it didn’t do the Skimmer much good
To be backed over that, then knocked flat,
and cartwheeled into the wood.
But ‘ol Beau Skeeter did a teeter
And righted itself just fine,
And we were happy when my racing DN
Stopped backing just in time.
The sleepy head thought his Skimmer was dead,
Just metal pipe and aluminum debris,
But it was okay, spread out that way,
And we fished it out of the tree.
Was it time to quit, and just go sit
In a restaurant and have some tea,
While the Mount Washington Express continued to press
Its way down to the sea?
Well, good ‘ol Jim, the one called Slim,
He’d go just on a dare!
And the Skimmer boy stood by his toy,
Saying, “We got ice and air!”
So, before very long, in the hard, red dawn,
We were easin’ along shore in the lee.
Smooth or rocky, that Winnipesaukee
Air didn’t scare me.
“Cause for ‘Ol Beau Skeeter, there ain’t nothin’ neater
Than air that blows like stink,
Air that growls, and air that howls,
And a twenty mile skating rink.
Like two feather ends, my lightweight friends,
At the point, coming out of the lee,
Blew away, down the bay,
where, I hardly could see.
But my great wolf hound ran them down,
And I signaled for them to park.
I said, “Listen in! Stay upwind!
Or we’ll be here until dark!
What if something should break on this high-banked lake?
How will we get back to the car?
Play up wind, and stay up wind,
And don’t fly down so far!”
But, the damage was done, and before the sun
Could even stop pinking the sky,
The DN’s sail would shred like kale,
And the skimmer would break up and die.
So, by tail wind, we coasted them in,
And sheltered them in a cove,
And jumped in ‘ol Skeet. My what a treat!
You should see how that thing drove.
It would turn on a dime. A song, a rhyme,
Was big Beau Skeeter at play.
But what if it hiked? It couldn’t have liked
Anything better that day.
Ten feet in the air, like a rearing bear,
Its up wind runner would jump,
And I’d set it down, without a sound,
With hardly a jolt or bump.
It would fly as if the sky
Was beneath its sharp edged feet.
An’ I’m a flower if a hundred miles per hour
Wasn’t as slow as a crowded street!
We’d go there and go here,
Gave little thought to where we’d steer,
Just as long as that gale’s song
Was a-hummin’ in our gear.
We’d climb awhile, five or ten mile,
Then fall at the speed of light!
With a miser’s greed we hunted speed
Like a falling start at night.
And then we’d zip in a swooping trip
Between some tree covered rocks,
And do a slide a half mile wide,
“Hang on to your socks!”
We whooped and laughed, and our noble craft
Seemed to join right in,
‘Cause it would skip and dodge like a heat mirage
Over a roof of tin.
Oh, I don’t know why I let it go,
My gale loving, skeetering Beau,
But it seemed too dear, one thrill per year,
For things had to be just so.
I took, my friend, to racing a DN,
A hundred and five thrills a day!
And sold it to some guys with stars in their eyes
Who lived on Wolfboro Bay.
But I’ll never fergit, long’s I’m lit
‘Ol Beau with air and room,
‘Cause boys are boys, and men are boys
Let it be ’till the crack of doom!
And I never sailed faster or sweeter
When bending a wooden boom.
There’s an expression, “it’s not over ’til the fat lady sings” which has woven itself into our ice lingo. We keep listening for the fat lady to sing an end to our lovely season. Frantically, we visit more northern lakes, get little snippets of sailing here and there, as each pond develops ‘pencil ice’ a treacherous vertical-grained ice which is dangerous even when thick. Finally, the fat lady sings, and we gather for a party to celebrate the season
The fat lady’s aria.
by Jory Squibb
I clearly remember dim days of December
as the month trickled by, the ice was so shy
we eyed all the puddles, tested the swamps
just give me that glide, an iceperson wants.
At last came our bond, with dear Plymouth Pond.
the ice was quite late, but turned out just great!
We launched Bill Bucholtz’s box of bolts:
as it gathered way, it made our day.
Then cameras rolled on skimbats bold
when snow came fast: we’d had a blast!
The Belgrade Lakes were total flakes
But our luck held, and Alford jelled.
on smooth black ice, or thinnest snow
‘cross Alford’s circle, we’d come and go
Then sail we did on Pemaquid
that long, lean gem, brought fun again.
Sebago said, get ready, set. Our cars were ready, we placed our bet
without a spy, the chance snuck by
Our middle seasan, ’bout took our reason
frustration mounded, we jounced and bounded.
then came snow, and freezing rain
a combination sure to pain
you couldn’t ski, you couldn’t skate
and harsh words passed, ‘tween man and mate
but then at last, the thaws came fast
we donned our pants at every chance
Chicky, lovely Megunticook
skiis, skates, and boats, we poked each nook
if we could move, we’d somehow go
the warming sun our friend and foe
the ice, though thick, turned quick to mush
the die-hards though refused to hush.
we pushed the limit, still had wings
our spouses threatened threatening things
so now at last our gear is in
our sighs are deep, the future grim
Here we gather on April fools’
look wistfully on Chickie’s pools
if health should hold, in the dying year
we’ll chop the holes, we’ll launch the gear
we’ll do our sit-ups, check our knees
burden gods with hearty pleas
then test our strength with borrowed wings
and hear that song,
that wondrous song,
a runner sings!
I’ve had it: Just as we get ice,
the temperature climbs and climbs!
My ice axe tinkles paltry ice,
though best of all my finds
But I know that there’s an answer,
and we’re off to Thetford Mines.
You say you’ve never heard of,
that place called Thetford Mines?
Just point your car’s nose northward,
and start following the signs
And four and a half hours later,
you’ll spot the lake at Thetford Mines
I thought Maine was just as nifty,
as any iceman finds
‘Til the smokestacks of Republicans
blew heat from southern climes
And now my heart is yearning
for the ice of Thetford Mines
Thetford has a secret,
while our southern heart repines:
When winds blast from Alberta,
and the mercury declines,
The locals smile and cavort about,
on the lakes of Thetford Mines.
I’ll find a sassy French girl,
who dresses to the nines
Who cooks a wicked bouillabaisse
with a broth of lemon rinds
In her cottage on the ice-edge
in little Thetford Mines
So we’ll leave you ice-nuts languishing
in endless weather binds
Bill and I’ll come limping back
when summer’s on our minds
To bathe and tell you fables
of the ice at Thetford Mines
Newbies Brave the Spring Iceboat Gala
bring on the riff-raff, the halt and the lame
we’ll booze ’em and schmooze ’em
and hail ’em by name
our hobby’s as safe
as your Eas-Y-Boy chair
as exciting as Harley’s
with wind in your hair
no talk of dis-mastings
or the times we went in
or the miles of gear-schlepping
to sit without wind
we’ll find you a boat
at the autumn swap-meet
and you’ll outfit in style
from your helmet to cleat
then late in November
the tremens will hit
you’ll eyeball the puddles
in the thaws, have a fit.
but in frigid December:
your buddies will phone
your mate will roll over
and groan a laud groan
she’ll think of a hundred
things to be done
‘for she grabs at her pencil,
your off on the run
in time she will learn
your ice mistress holds sway:
with an ongoing date
from November to May
but you’re off with pulse racing
to the lake in a trice
Just as the yellow sun
touches the ice
Your buddies are setting up
quick as a cat
and if tell-tales are moving
there’ll be narry a chat.
You thought they were buddies
you’re a newby… so hey!
but here on the ice,
an addiction’s at bay
I’m a sailor, you tell yourself
i’ll do this or die
but the darned thing justs sits there
as others streak by
but soon you’ll be moving
by hook and by crook
doing things that could never
be learned from a book
and sometimes you’ll notice
the ice is so fair
you’ll exclaim, holy jaysus
we’re floating on air
and you’ll think of that springtime
when you strayed to the Ball
that was the beginning–
that cursed beginning–
that started it all
by Larry Hardman
The Crocuses have croaked the season,
Brashly up through frosty dew,
Mushed the ice for no good reason,
Turned it into sloppy goo.
Soon will come the tulips too.
But I haven’t had enough, have you?
Why sleep late, take comfy pleasures
Read Sunday paper in puffy chair,
Instead of more heroic measures?
Why did I sometimes doubt the air?
Why the devil wasn’t I there?
Ice racer now to leaney shed,
To musty basement, or stuffy nook.
Now, to dreaming far, instead,
Beyond the bubbling, sunny brook,
Beyond the green, garden bed,
Far, far, far ahead.
Dream honkers cruising in raucous V’s,
Chill rain bruising the sodden ground,
Red leaves falling from the trees,
Cold embracing my whole world round,
Dream when liquid pools will freeze,
And I can fly when I please!
by Larry Hardman
My wife away from home has many names.
Mistress Cold, I call her,
Though her name is IDNIYRA.
She sends me home well spent.
For I am a voluptuary, I admit,
Lusting for the sing of her in my blood,
The way she take my thoughts,
Incites when she most satisfies,
Cold eyed temptress!
And my other wife, you ask?
I would not this philandering
Were she resentful.
Jealousy is for those of her own kind.
There, I trespass not,
Nor do I care to.
You see, a stoic sensualist am I,
An icy epicure,
Debaucher, carouser, rascal, rake,
Blessed be the fanatics.
Tired world without them.
Grateful am I
To find my own:
one at home, one away,
And so in my heart greater love for all.
by Larry Hardman
This chill December day
The Maine Boys
Come out to play.
Stalk onto the ice with toys
Of their own making,
The wind and the boys are
frisky, speed their whisky.
Chill factors at fifty below.
Fire on the skin.
Makes cellophane sounds
As they make the rounds.
Out from under
Echos off my hill
And their metallic roars still
The breathy voices of the
On the inky gloss below,
Graze the orange pins,
Circle lazily between,
Cluster, sit and preen,
Climb and fall again for the
But, down there, I know,
Witnin steel reverberations
Taught wood, wire,sinews
Nothing seems slow.
Adreneline and wine, the
surface streaking past,
Giant howl of air,
Grind-rattle of runner glide,
Perilous bend of mast,
Finish line slide
as rooster tails grow.
Tucked in their needles thin,
Maine boys grin
Living best in flight
by Dave Wilkins, 2003
There was rumored big ice, extending for miles.
Sebago’s set up, the first time in a while.
An expedition ensued to sort out the facts.
Iceboats were loaded and lashed to the racks.
They drove and they steered, like migrating geese
Converged as a group on the shore wearing fleece.
Traveling miles finding ice, what’s the reason?
Cause cold spells like this don’t come every season.
It was smooth, shiny, dark, and more like an otter.
This black pane of glass, surely must be water.
Closer inspection found a crystalline glare,
With clear, feathery branches and tiny bubbles of air.
With perfect reflection, an inverted tree line.
Clouds at their feet, the sun up it did shine.
The distant horizon, it too formed a slick plate.
Unloaded the iceboats; no one would wait.
Ice tales such as this have rarely been told.
Elders have said, but now they are old.
The winters are warmer, the seasons too short
Iceboats stay in lofts, the heck with this sport.
Now blades, spars and sails were merely implored.
To fashion the craft for this lake to explore.
Missing this day would be an error no doubt.
Ice pilots were chafing at their sheets to head out.
The air began stirring and soon had filled in.
The boats were assembled, the sailors willing.
Runners now cutting imperceivable grooves.
Sails billowed full and the boats they did move.
Away they now flew toward the sky in the east.
Lusting and hungry approaching the feast.
For no hell bent flake had yet soiled the sheet.
This great film a virgin, the deflowering sweet.
By Dave Wilkins, 2003
Regattas are fun and touring’s real nice.
But some of us think there’s more fun on ice.
How fast can we go? Someone exclaimed.
No, no, just stop at 60 you fiend.
Rattle and rumble, a DN can fly.
This must be 40 with a gleam in the eye.
Faster and faster, so it’s all just a blur.
At 50 man, she’s starting to purr.
Bear off in the puff and strain on the sheet
Now Ron Sherry’s got someone to beat.
At 60, OK now we’re movin some quick.
Oh damn, this ice had better be thick.
70, ahum, has it ever been done?
Will this rig stay together? Is this really so fun?
White knuckles, palpitations, adrenaline rush.
Snow drifts, a shoreline, lumpy hard slush.
Roaring of runners and well bended mast.
Straining so hard to complete the task.
I don’t know if I can get much quicker.
Oh heck, sheet some more cause I need the sticker.
Quit now? No way, I’m no fool.
Cause ego’s in charge, I’m out of control
These boats are fast and I am the best.
Here’s the proof from the GPS in my vest.
By Dave Wilkins, 2002
Remember when our sails were straining.
Laying flat, these necks were craning.
Racing, cruising, speed trial, training.
The days are long, our ice is waning.
Air is warm or foggy, often raining.
We’ve had our fun, there’s no complaining.
by David Wilkins, 2003
It’s January now; winter in Maine
And most us are out on the ice again.
This obsession of sailing the hard is in place,
So off we go every Saturday morning to race.
And racing’s a hoot, nothing finer all year.
Not candy nor fishing nor women or beer.
The faster we go the funner the scene,
And if you’re reading this now then you know what I mean.
But be careful my friend, there’s always thin ice.
Check your steering gear well and your parking brake twice.
Wear your picks and your helmet and don’t go alone.
Have some rope and a suit and a charged up cell phone.
Good judgment for all, and watch out for each other
We’re Family out there, and this guy is your brother.
But mistakes have been made, it scary for sure.
Our best heads up behavior is the one cure.
But we as a group have a service to do.
Sure we wanna have fun but there’s more to it too.
Like children and wives, careers not to mention.
Our health and our safety or retirement pension
These things really come first, iceboating’s just fluff
Beware obsession and know when enough is enough.
Life is sweet and is long, so cherish each day.
Happy households are key, the stuff of which we’re made.
Moderate wisely and then sail with your brain
Cause iceboating is not supposed to bring pain.