Memory of Lake Ontario Spring in the 1960's
|Memory of Lake Ontario Spring. February 11, 2016
As a child I lived on the edge of Lake Ontario. In winter the lake froze between the lakeshore of my hometown and an offshore island creating a more than mile wide skating rink that stretched for many miles along the lake. Far to the south, beyond the island, ice breakers plowed through the ice to keep the St. Lawrence Seaway open. But along our part of the lake, the ice remained undisturbed, cold, still and inviting. On Sunday afternoons we took our skates and climbed under the snow fence, across the frozen barrier rocks and the snowdrifts until we reached the smoother ice, some 100 yards from shore. Some years, the wind blew and the ice froze unevenly, but other years, the ice froze on a calm night creating a perfect surface for us to enjoy. The winters were so cold then that the ice was strong enough for cars to drive across. We put on our skates and took off, skating free, legs pumping, arms swinging as if we were wild monkeys among the trees, moving upwind until we could skate no longer. Sometimes, far distant from the shore, we heard the deep crack of the ice shifting in its basin. The sound was primeval as if the ice had a life of its own. When we reached the point of exhaustion, we reversed direction, gliding downwind with our jackets open to act a sails propelling us along. My father was a wonderful skater and led the pack with graceful swoops and encouraging calls. We felt invincible out on the cold blue ice with nothing but the winter sky as witness. Sometimes we passed small wooden fishing huts where fishermen sat waiting, their round holes dug through the ice and lines deployed to catch a big Northern Pike or large mouth bass. They huddled around propane heaters, their faces raw and red from the cold. We skated by effortlessly, calling âHello! Hello!â hot from skating, laughing at the idea of being cold.
Lake Ontario is one of the biggest lakes in the world â not as big as its sister Great Lakes, Superior, Michigan and Huron but bigger than Erie and more than big enough to be daunting to a child skating across its frozen surface. Spring along Lake Ontario is not a spectacular season. It is messy, full of small floods, dirty snow and flowing sand and gravel being carried downstream towards the lake. Sometimes in April, sometimes in May, the snow began to melt and the sounds of the ice cracking became a constant. We children were forbidden to skate any more and we walked along the path bordering the lakeshore, listening to the echos of the cracking ice. We watched each day as the big icy drifts along the shore began to break up. As the snow along the path melted, hundreds of tiny rivulets flowed from the path, across the pebble beach, into the lake. As the melt water increased in volume and the days got warmer, the break up of ice on the lake accelerated, forming floating islands of different sizes and shapes. The lake surface became a kaleidoscope of color, an infinite mosaic of blue and white, too diverse in color to imagine, a reflection of the skyâs continuous color wheel.
One day we see the first crocus. A small iridescent yellow, poking its fragile head through the wet black soil, small drops of snowmelt dripping from its blade-like leaves. Then another breaks through, purple this time, with tiny black stamens, hiding in the corona, concentrating the only source of heat, the still cold sun. We watch each day as the crocuses bloom, tiny, often hidden from view by endless snowdrifts. Itâs been a long winter; weâve walked to school every day in heavy boots and snow pants. Weâve gotten frostbite on our cheeks, throwing snowballs until our arms ache. Weâve played ice hockey on the frozen surface of our neighborâs driveway. Weâve shoveled the snow on the sidewalk in front of our house. Now we greet the crocuses. By the time the lake is ice-free, weâve abandoned our boots, thrown our skates into the back of the garage. We pull our bicycles from the storeroom and pump up their tires. We rush to ride down to the lake, past the last wilting crocus, the last grey remnant of snow. We climb under the fence and find the flattest rock and skip it into the black water. Spring is finally here.