Ice and I have established a mutual understanding, a social contract, if you will. As long as I photograph it and admire it respectfully from a distance...it won't hurt me.
It wasn't always thus. There was a time when I loved seeing our floathouse, once surrounded by water, encased in ice. I'd run, slip, and slide on it in my rubber boots on my way to school. I loved that what once was liquid and impossible to stand on, now I could defy the physics of friction with the crisp breeze in my face. With this attitude you'd think I'd be headed for life as a skating prodigy.
The scene where my Olympic dreams were (unknowingly) shattered took place in a tiny, one-room school in the Alaskan bush when I was a bright-eyed, pig-tailed, rosy-cheeked 7-year-old.
It was a stormy day so our teacher, who ruled over all grades, K-12, decided that we would do P.E. class inside. She set up an obstacle course that involved a balance board, hopscotch, and climbing over desks.
It was right in the middle of my epic assault on the desk when a schoolmate, apparently with visions of future Iron Man glory, shoved me so he could scale the desk. I fell to the floor, hitting at exactly the right angle to break my tailbone.
At the time I didn't know that this was where my chance to medal at Nationals ended. At the time my greatest dismay was over not being allowed to go on a family trip to visit my Uncle Rand and his girlfriend Linda at their isolated cabin up Wolf Creek. My entire family was headed out in the skiff on an adventure into the wilderness, but I couldn't go because it was feared the rough skiff-ride would be too painful and cause more harm.
Instead I stayed at school all alone except my grandmother, who was teacher's aid and in charge of Halloween decorations. I was put to work crumpling strips of orange and black confetti paper and glueing them to pieces of construction paper cut in the shape of an owl.
Feeling completely abandoned and in pain, bitter tears rained down on the paper making it soggy and hard to glue as the windows turned black and the school generator rumbled, keeping the electric lights going as they glared down on paper witches and goblins tacked around the chalkboard. To this day I hotly despise Halloween with the heat of a 1,000 suns.
Tangent: As I grew up I came to wonder at the peculiarity of parents teaching their kids to never take candy from strangers, but then turning around on one arbitrary day of the year to escort their kids to stranger's doors and take candy from them. This observation, by the way, did not improve my opinion of Halloween.
Now returning you to your regularly scheduled program: It wasn't until a few years after the tragic Waterloo-Desk Affair that I had an opportunity to tap into my champion-skating potential. My sister and I were visiting my Uncle Rory and Aunt Marion and their two small daughters LeAnn and JoDean at their log cabin in Saltery Cove one November. During the course of our visit the lake above the cove froze and we all went on a skating party.
I don't know how it happened, but I found myself off by myself. At first I exulted in the freedom of moving over the ice with the brisk breeze in my face. But as I did a Bielman--okay, it was a simple turn--my foot shot out from under me and I landed hard on my backside.
There was no pain. In fact, there was nothing at all, just me lying spread eagle on the ice staring up at the wintry, overcast sky. I could see the tips of the evergreen forest that encircled the lake. I don't remember hearing anything and I couldn't speak.
I also couldn't move.
I flashed back to the boy shoving me and then me falling on the floor curled up in pain. I'd been surrounded by people then and hadn't been allowed to feel fear.
Now, though, all alone and completely immobile, I wondered how long I would lie there before anyone found me. And then what? Would I be able to move ever again?
Fortunately, after ten to fifteen years--okay, minutes--I found feeling returning and I was able to get back up and very shakily and carefully make my way off the ice. I decided, the moment I was on firm land again, that Olympic figure skating glory was overrated and I vowed to never step onto the ice again.
Today I restrict my interactions with ice mainly to photography, as you can see in the accompanying photos.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)