By Merisa Sherman
The last paddle of the season, a chilly float in December
With the weather this ridiculously warm, we had both been on watch for quite some time. Most days, I would try to slow down as I drove by and even once I pulled into the parking lot to just sit and stare out across the ice. It was taking forever to decide what it was doing, this ice and it was beginning to stress me out a bit.
The ice was trapped in this neither thick nor thin limbo, where each afternoon you think the ice will evaporate, only to find an ice so sheer that while you could step on it you couldn’t really stand on it. It was such clear ice, a glassy ice that you could see right through to the bottom of the lake. But then it would glisten differently in the sun, more like a glitter snow than a sparkling single ray that extends over water.
But then it would look like slush some days and we would just get so excited, texting each other photos of the melting ice —making sure that we each hadn’t put our boats away just yet, ensuring that we were both still committed to the need for just one more paddle this summer. I mean, this fall or even this year. I know most Vermonters look at the world in at least five seasons (spring, mud season, second spring, mud season II, summer, fall, stick season, winter). However, I do not.
I see two seasons: paddling and skiing. And, if we are super lucky, those two wonderful things can happen at the same time. A transitional period where the excitement of one helps to say farewell to the other. You might paddle all November while you take your first runs and then you get to paddle when the mountain is closed midweek in May. It’s beautiful. I paddle, but you might think biking/skiing or golf/skiing.
It’s still one of those weird contradictions that make life in Vermont so amazingly weird. My friends down south talk about putting away their summer clothes for the winter but my gear is ready to go at a moment’s notice. Like this past week — we knew we would have a two-to-three day window in which we were hoping the temps would stay warm just long enough to be able to break through the ice and float, at least float.
Because as much as I love skiing, no matter that my heart seems to beat in time with my turns, making skiing and breathing a symbiotic dance, there is something inherently nurturing about floating on water, on being supported by something greater than yourself, but also something that you can feel constantly changing. It is, perhaps, similar to the feeling as the wind wraps around you on the summit of a mountain. A constant whirling and going, through which we can only hope to maneuver through.
The breakthrough finally came and we found ourselves sitting once again in our boats, floating along on the water. Before even picking up my paddle, I let my breath adjust to the movement of the pond. With each breath, I found myself reconnecting every part of my being with the natural world around me. And then, I let a huge grin spread across my face — we were paddling in December!
It had been 19 degrees when we first arrived at the boat launch, but thankfully, we were prepared with down booties inside of our muck boots, down jackets and mittens to keep us warm. Each splash that reached my hull immediately found itself frozen to the surface. The water in the bottom of my boat … not quite water at all but instead a growing chuck of ice at my feet. It was definitely an icy experience.
We took turns exploring around the large iceberg floating in the middle of the pond, the wind creating an aggressive looking edge just beneath the water’s surface.
The subsurface ice was jagged and unbreakable to the point where I thought I would snap my paddle if I kept trying to chip it. But there were coves and little breaks here and there, perfect for our small watercraft to creep through without bothering anyone.
I think we were on the water for little over 45 minutes, but it was a lifetime of an experience and a reconnection that we most desperately needed. One last paddle before the season was over, one last time to feel the water rolling underneath me as my canoe slices across the pond.
One more time to feel as though I am moving an entire world with the stroke of my paddle.
And with that,we put our boots back on the top of our cars from the last time in 2022. It was time to go skiing.