This essay appeared in the December issue of Traverse City Magazine


blades of glory

It feels like we’re cheating, defying the very laws of physics that send us towards the lake bottom any other time of the year—yet here we are, a few hundred yards from shore, looking at the bottom of the lake right beneath out feet. We glide effortlessly across a crystalline sheet of ice, stones and sand formations flicking past between our legs as we gain momentum.

Rarely do the weather conditions allow a lake to freeze over before it’s covered in snow, but when they do, it provides an experience you won’t find on any ice rink.



Skating on ice clear as glass is terrifying. As if each powerful stroke of your skate will be your last as you plunge into your icy grave. A sense of awe and wonderment follows this fear, if you can get past all frigid water that swirls a few inches beneath your feet. It would help if the ice were cloudy, or perhaps just a little opaque. The severity of clarity plays tricks on your mind, tugging at all your senses of self-preservation and common sense.

Ice shavings dance with the wind as our skates slice through the frozen lake water. As we circumnavigate the lake, it responds with pinging and popping, reminding us who’s in charge of our fate. The sound of our ice skates hitting the frozen lake resonates off the ice sheet and echoes off the nearby hills, an eerie high pitch twang that puts goose bumps on my neck. We stick to areas where we can see the bottom, should one of us fall in, we wouldn’t go much further then our knees; although the temptation to skate towards the perfect uniform surface in the middle of the lake never leaves the back of our minds.

We step gingerly over pressure cracks that run the entire length of the length—zigging and zagging like a crack in a celestial mirror.

The lake ice wears the unpredictable wounds of weather and time. Healed cracks, fissures, and broken segments thawed refrozen back together. We step gingerly over pressure cracks that run the entire length of the length—zigging and zagging like a crack in a celestial mirror. The evening light refracts in the ice, reflecting the beauty our surroundings and the quality of light you can only find in the winter—where blue’s, ochers, emeralds , whites, and greys, coalesce and morph into a symphony of winter hues and moods. Bubbles trapped in their ascent through the water column sit helplessly, waiting patiently for springs thaw to continue their ascent.


We stop to warm up, sitting down on a small bench of ice that juts up from the ice.  Fish dart beneath our feet as we tighten our skates and access the ice conditions. It’s a mistake to step out on a frozen lake and assume uniform ice thickness. Underground springs can feed warmer water that prohibits strong ice growth—wind, weather, and sun can all have an effect on ice strength and it demands constant vigilance to stay safe. Even though we were skating in two feet of water, it’s a good habit to make, and no one wants to skate back to the car in sopping wet skates.


Out here in the middle of this barren and frozen expanse, we can’t help but feel the sense of life that percolates up though this thin layer of ice. The impermanence of the ice conditions, the color pallets, the stillness of the air—it evokes a sense of belonging that shows us just how much nature has to give for those willing to commit.