Walking on Thin Ice
Just how healthy is your respect for the ice?
One clear winter day, I stood on the small rise next to the cottage, looking out to the water below. I spotted two figures moving in the distance. Little dots on the frozen water stretching out in front of us - they were skating! When I recovered from the shock I asked my husband about it - apparently, free skating is a thing. People just pop on their skates - special ones for skating long distances - and head out into the archipelago.
But what about the ice? I asked him, imagining all sorts of frozen horrors as it cracked and opened up beneath the skaters, the freezing water swallowing them. Yes, he answered, they sometimes fall through.
This particular bay, Saltvik, or Salty Bay as we jokingly call it in English, is a long strip of water (salt water) that looks very much like a lake. Our side of the bay is rather flat, with reeds hugging the water’s edge and farmland and fields jutting up to the reeds. On the other side, tree-lined cliffs with only the occasional cottage.
It’s a peaceful spot. No close neighbours. No car traffic. In summer we get boats travelling past, but I never thought I’d see skaters cruising by during winter.
Is part of the thrill of skating on what is, for a part of the year open water, because it’s dangerous? Perhaps it is. Or is it that you get a little blasè about the ice when you’ve grown up with it? Maybe they have an inbuilt respect but it’s somehow put on hold as they step into their skates and out onto the frozen water. You certainly get to see the world from a different perspective, one usually reserved for boats in summer.
Whilst ice is wonderfully pretty to look at, I’m not a fan. I fell on black ice a few years ago. My feet just disappeared from under me. I landed heavily on my left side, breaking my glasses case (but not my glasses) and my pride. It was painful!
Every year since I moved here there’s been someone I know or know of who has fallen and injured themselves, often resulting in surgery and months of recovery. I have great respect for the ice, shuffling like a penguin, wearing spikes on my shoes, and never ever venturing out onto frozen bodies of water.
But people do. They skate - and even drive on it!
It’s that nonchalance again, particularly in those with an addiction to adrenaline. Since I moved here, they’ve banned the road they used to have on the frozen bay to the east of town. Yes. you read correctly. They would mark out a road and people would actually drive their cars on it. Here’s me, too scared to walk on ice, and then there are those who drive on it, making skating on the once-was-open-water not so bad! I don’t want to imagine what driving a car would be like…hearing the ice crack and creak under you. Or perhaps you don’t hear it before it’s too late because the motor is running.
People have died here from going through the ice - in cars, on foot, on skis, on snow scooters, and on bicycles. We only just today had a discussion about a man (many years ago) who was skiing (alone) on the frozen bay close to home who went through. What would he have done? Was it easy to get the skis off? Would he have been dragged down by his water-logged clothing and skis?
A few winters ago an elderly relative went through the ice trying to save her dog, who had run off and fallen through the ice. She managed to drag herself out of the freezing water onto the not-so-thick ice and crawl back home, some parts of her legs and feet burned by the cold. She was lucky to be alive. It terrified the whole family.
I don’t know if I’d react automatically and rush onto the ice to save a dog - I don’t own one so I hope I’ll never have to make that split decision. I don’t want to ever hear the crack of ice as it breaks around me. My respect for the ice is great - the beautiful bays and meandering seas around the archipelago can be explored by boat. For me, the ice is something to be photographed, admire from afar, and put up with when I’m walking on the icy streets.
Good luck to those who venture out where I fear to tread!
It’s been a few years since I read this book in English and the Swedish version is on my tbr pile - Ice by Ulla-Lena Sundberg. Born in the archipelago, this work of fiction is loosely based on her family’s experiences. Here’s an interview with her, if you’re interested to see a little more of where I live. It’s a perfect accompaniment to this edition of Northern Notes.
This interview with Cassie Lynch, a descendant of the Noongar people of southwest Australia who’s been studying their storytelling tradition, is fabulous. She tells of her study into ancient accounts of rising sea levels from the end of the ice age around 7000 years ago have been passed down through aboriginal stories.
I’m Being Brave
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