Saturday, April 1, 2006

Memory: Maine, Midwinter

Spring is here, days are brighter and warmer, and yet I found myself recently thinking back to a midwinter week-end in the early 1980'’s when I was a college student in Maine.

A group of us from Colby College took a week-end trip from Waterville, on the Kennebec River in central Maine, to Kezar Lake, in the west of the state. We held a gathering at the summer cottage of one of our classmates.

I don'’t recall whether there was much snow on the ground, though there must have been some. I do know that the lake was well-frozen; the experience that has stayed with me was out on the ice in a deep, dark night.

We arrived in the evening, made food, ate, then went for a night-time wander around the mostly empty summer cottage community.

We walked among scattered cottages to a small community center.

We played a loose game of bowling on the single lane in the community center. I remember that bowling lane as an alley of sharp white pine, with pins at one end and a ball at the other. We set the pins by hand, then stood back as Mark, the best bowler among us, rolled strikes. The echoing rumble and crash, surrounded by winter quiet, was wonderful.

We walked back on the lake. The ice was irregular and ridged, with snow banks and drifts. Several of us carried large-battery flashlights. It felt to me, a relative southerner, like an arctic expedition.

As we neared the wooded shoreline, we stumbled over a snowdrift and onto a cleared, level ring of smooth ice that someone had groomed for skating. In our boots and heavy coats, taken by surprise, we slipped and stumbled. Someone dropped a flashlight that spun across the ice, its beam flashing crazy patterns through our group.

Someone, I think it was Laur, lay sprawled in the center of the ring on her back, looking up.

"“Whoa! Guys, check this out!"”

We joined her. Lying on that flat ice, looking up, I didn't see trees or horizon or other folks. I saw sky. Clear, deep, star-filled sky.

Suddenly, the ice at my back felt ever so slightly curved. Just for a moment, I sensed the motion of the planet through that starry blackness.

I knew, of course, about planets and orbits and the universe. But it was that night on the ice in Maine that I understood at a deeper level that I am on the surface of a ball of earth and water moving through space.

That comes back to me now and again, whatever the season, whatever the weather.

It's good to remember where you are.

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