Our Rink, Part Two

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, January 05, 2011

I wrote last year about our discovery of a flooded field a few blocks from our home that had frozen over, and how we visited it with ice skates. What made that experience so magical, I think, was the fact that we were always the only ones there, and no one ever told us to stop. I wrote then, "Sometimes there's just nobody around to say you can't do that." It is one of the perils of living here, to be sure, but there are those times when the pleasures of scofflawyering make up for it.

When the temperatures dipped down into the low teens in mid-December this year, we began hearing reports from friends and neighbors that the canals and ponds on Belle Isle had frozen, much earlier this year than in the past. On Christmas afternoon, with little else to do we threw our skates in the car and headed over to find the island empty and the water indeed frozen solid. So we skated:

We've been back several times since, and though the ice shows evidence of others we've rarely seen another soul on the island. No doubt there are people who've been skating here for years who feel the same way as we now do about this place. It's magical, and it's all ours.

As we skated I thought about those people who paid for the privilege to elbow through one another in Rockefeller Center that I'd witnessed a few weeks back, and considered how skating in the wilds of Belle Isle suits my personality so much more. Where else but Detroit could you have this much fun with no one around, all in the shadow of a ramshackle building designed by one of the twentieth-century's greatest architects (Eero Saarinen's Flynn Pavilion)?

Belle Isle contains a series of ponds connected by canals. On our second trip we figured out how to navigate ourselves around the island using those canals; it is the sort of skating they do in the Netherlands, like in the stories we've read the kids with pictures of people dressed like their ancestors:

Both pictures, from Marian King's Kees.

(If we go on a warmer day, the Dutch costumes are definitely coming out of the closet).

My daughter is becoming a pretty good skater. She falls only occasionally (always without complaint) and she can get going pretty fast. My son may still be too young for real skates (no local stores carry them in his size), but we always find a way for him to have fun out there.

It is true that I may occasionally show off some of the skills I developed as a fourth-string high school ice hockey player who kept the bench plenty warm for his teammates:


The kids think I'm pretty cool, and I'll let them maintain that delusion for a few more years, I guess. 

Next we plan to explore the canals through the forests on the east side of the island, so stay tuned for more.