This is a picture of Kinderdijk canal in the Nederlands with thousands of joyous ice skaters who descended on the frozen canal …which last froze over more than twelve years ago.
Long ago, in the time of the story of Hans Brinker and The Silver Skates, that is in Holland circa 1865, the canals in the Netherlands froze over every year.
But gradually, with more and more water pollution changing the temperature of the water, the canals stopped freezing over.
But now, as one grandfather put it: “For us, it’s in our genes,” said Gus Gustafsson, 68… explaining why he and his wife had rushed out to buy new skates and take to the ice under a cloudless blue sky. “It was like a frenzy that came over people, including lots of kids…” With thousands of others, they skated northeast toward the cheese capital, Gouda, then toward Utrecht.
Can you imagine how nice it would be to ice skate down a frozen canal with your grandparents, the slurrr of the ice under your blades, finding the rythyms, bending forward, pretending you were an Olympic skater, long armed and taking swooping long strides?
Can you see how rosy your cheeks would become, and maybe some would have to stop for a little, you know, to quaff a little ‘vitamin drink’ from the flask? And can you imagine the ice clumping on your skate laces and eventually the ache in your ankles, and how you’d have to plead with the others to rest for a moment?
Can you hear the cries of joy from the people, the shouts of the toughs, the screaming fake-fears of the young girls, the teams of would-become Olympians who are practicing in packs, the old ones who smoke their pipes while they skate?
Can you feel the ice crystals forming in your nose and at the corners of your mouth, and the warm perspiration under your hat band and at the middle of your back between your wings?
Can you smell the woodsmoke of bankside fires, can you feel the sting of the smoke across your eyes? Can you hear the whish of your jacket as your arms windmill forward?
Can you think for a moment you are no longer skating on blades made of wood, but now skating on modern blades made of aluminum, titanium, steel, yet all taken from the earth by miners for you… and rendered in a crucible in a fiery foundry for you… and then poured into molds…for you? Can you imagine you are skating on earth’s bounty passed through fire as you scrape scrape scrape across the ice?
And can you imagine the happiness of the dogs that run after, all seeming nine-pawed as they skid on the ice? And can you hear the shouts of those coming through playing some version of ‘crack the whip’?
And can you imagine that some are saying the canals froze over this year because of efforts to clean the water over the last many years?
And can you imagine eating simple food at the end of the canal, and falling asleep by the fire, leaning into the body of someone loved?
And can you imagine that you sleep like an angel for your lungs, your mind, your body have been used to the hilt… and that tonight you might dream about winning the magical Silver Skates yourself, and that in so doing you will have then, according to the ancient mythos in the cold countries, earned the earthly equivalent of silver wings forever?
May we all sleep well after being together on such a long, beautiful day under such a blue, blue sky.
Tuck, tuck. There. And there.
CODA: Here is a link to Michael van der Galien’s site on the issue of kanaals freezing over, and some pics of his very ‘silver skates’ looking self, iceskating there in the Netherlands, where he lives.