The unconventional is frequently a window into another dimension. This is especially true if you end up doing something out of the ordinary in a locality that has already been narrowly defined. Thus, when I ended up skating one frigid February afternoon on the frozen surface of a cranberry bog back in February 1973, I felt that I had somehow tinkered with time itself.
My mother and I had come to Cape Cod for public school for February break. As the vacation commenced, I impulsively tossed my hockey skates into the trunk of her car just as we left our driveway in Wellesley for our grandfather’s cottage in Eastham, 103 miles to the southeast.
When we arrived two hours later, I took note that an inch or two of snow had covered the scrub-pine needles that framed the driveway and our backyard. A banditry of chickadees greeted me as I began to shuffle down the partially-frozen sandy path that led to my grandfather’s cranberry bog that had a working one for nearly 70 years. In 1973, it hadn’t been harvested by workers for five autumns. Nevertheless, the bog, which had been left to grow wild, still produced a few bushels of premium cranberries each fall. For the past few Thanksgivings, our holiday table had featured cranberry sauce grown from Cape marsh.
As I approached the marsh after a two-minute trek, I saw something I had never seen – a sheet of rectangular ice nearly a fourth-of-a-mile in circumference was sitting there like a glistening jewel. It was the most beautiful natural skating surface I had seen in years.
I raced back and gathered my skates, a Boston Bruins’ stocking cap, and my hockey gloves. When I informed Mom in the kitchen that I was off to skate, she smiled and exclaimed, “Get your skating in today, Shaunie. Don Kent just said on Channel 4 that a warm front will hit the Cape tomorrow with temperatures in the 40’s!”
I nodded and headed back to the cranberry bog with an afternoon sun peeking through the arctic-like conditions. A flock of seagulls flew overhead, and, off in the distance, a bleached Cape Cod Bay reminded me how close I was to saltwater. After sitting on a fallen pine trunk adjacent to the frozen marsh, I fretfully laced my hockey skates, adjusted my gold-colored hat on my head, and put my skates on the edge of the bog’s surface.
As I planted my left skate on the surface, I noticed red orbs of cranberries frozen in the ice, six inches below the exterior. The first few thrusts on the ice were bumpy, but as I maneuvered away from the bog’s edge, it became glass-like. The winter chill bit at my cheeks as I continued to swirl around in one gigantic circle that took more than four minutes to complete.
I was part of some new world that I had only viewed from afar. As I skated in the middle of the bog, the dirt road that surrounded the bog seemed to serve as a picture frame. Off in the distance, the Cape Cod Central Railroad’s discarded tracks completed more than a hundred years previously now stood like a silent witness to history. From 1865 to 1966, the Old Colony Railroad had extended from Boston to Provincetown until it was discontinued. In 1977, those tracks would be ripped up and replaced with a first-rate bike trail that would bring thousands of bikers and walkers to its path and become formerly known as the Cape Cod Rail Trail.
When I completed my circle and commenced going around once again, I felt both exultant and rejuvenated. As the sun began to descend over Cape Cod Bay, a waxing Gibbous moon slowly appeared above the pine-scrub-forest on the other side of the bog like a nightlight. The lyrics to a Top 10 song that week played in my mind as I skated. “We get it almost every night; when that moon get so big and bright; it’s a supernatural delight; everybody’ was dancing in the moonlight…”
A few minutes later, I headed for the fallen pine tree where my boots lay. I returned to our Cape cottage to another rarity – a crackling fire in our hearth that heated me from the winter chill of the bog.
Mom was right. A southwest wind brought warmer temperatures, and by the end of the week, the bog had largely reverted to its usual watery existence. Still, we did one more extraordinary thing that February vacation – we attended a professional hockey game on the Cape as the Cape Cod Cubs, a Boston Bruins farm club from 1972-77, coached by former Bruin Bronco Horvath, played a regular season Eastern Hockey League contest. We ended up watching them defeat the Johnstown (PA) Jets, 3-2, at the old Cape Cod Coliseum in South Yarmouth.
While simple pleasures were all of the pleasures I knew as a boy growing up, I now know that life is like driving on a long rather highway. Every once in a while, you see or experience something that remains extraordinary – and that is what makes life worth living.