Skating Home Backwards
How I turned a festering cesspool into a sparkling stream. By Bill Vaughn

Part One, of Seven Parts.
While other men spend their Power Decades harvesting money for their Golden Years, it seems I’ve devoted the prime of my life to a swamp. And not even a real swamp at that, not some righteous nightmare of quicksand and adders and thuggish feral pigs, but a mere backwater, a slough, really, that meanders through our place in western Montana, rising and falling with the volume in the Clark Fork River nearby. In the summer the main channel of this marsh oozes sweet and fragrant between its walls of red dogwood and offers an array of refreshing temperatures as you swim deeper to flee horse flies and the heat. Around Halloween it freezes.

Then, with the vigilance of a patriarch whose family business is on the verge of going public, I stand guard over this ice till it melts in April, plowing off the snow, sealing the cracks, polishing its surface in the quest for a kind of perfection that’s just not possible anywhere else, at least not for me. And when it is perfect, and my skates slip across its water-colored sheen with a sigh like hands on a beam of rubbed heartwood, I can almost convince myself that everything is going to be all right.

When Kitty and I moved into Dark Acres our slough lay concealed under a kitchen midden of agricultural squalor. The ranch family that sold us a slice of its empire, huddled in the shadows of Black Mountain, had used it for three generations as its own private dump. When you looked at its main channel you expected water; what you saw was junk. But since we had the river to play in, only 300 yards from the house, and thus didn’t feel the need for no redneck swimmin’ pool, we figured that some day when we found the time we’d finish the job our slovenly predecessors had started and bury this eyesore with fill. Maybe even install a nice tennis court on top, I thought. Or a putting green.

But one morning during our first spring, I was drawn from my office in the house by the hysterical barking of Radish, our red heeler, to the banks of this slough. I supposed the racket was about an insubordinate magpie or a treed cat. But the thing making the dog insane turned out to be a western painted turtle. The size of Atlas Shrugged, she’d withdrawn into her shell to wait for all the gnashing to go away. Behind her in a sandy depression glistened four leathery white eggs. The turtle must have wandered away from the river, I guessed, or one of the many mosquito havens at Dark Acres, and simply lost her bearings. After a while four clawed feet emerged from the shell, then an ancient head in yellow and green and red. Radish growled and the hair on the ridge of his spine stood up like amohawk. I put my arm around him. There and so and well, I said, reciting the mantra that always calms him down. The turtle waddled down the embankment, out onto a rotten railroad tie through an obstacle course of brambles and beer cans, and, to my surprise, vanished with a wet slap, living proof that this water wasn’t poison. I pulled sand over her eggs with the toe of my boot.

It took me three years to clean the slough. I went after the lightest stuff first, standing on the bank to wrestle things from the tangle with a rake. Then, surrendering to the inevitable, I waded chest deep across an uncertain bed to extract what I couldn’t reach from shore. What refused to come to hand I fished out with a chain hooked to my old pickup. Each month more water opened to the sun. This progress, satisfying in ways I wouldn’t understand until later, had no immediate reward beyond the fact that it was progress.

Part Two.
When the first stage was finished, I took inventory: 289 tires, a tractor, two riding plows, a ton of farm implement parts and horse tack and barbed wire and rotten hay, a heap of dolls, a medley of overstuffed furniture, the carcass of a Hereford, the skeleton of a beaver and much festive plastic jetsam. Then there were endless chunks of timber washed from the forest floor into the slough when the river flooded once a decade. As it dried I reduced it with a chainsaw and stacked it into pyres. The night the Blue Jays beat the Phillies in the World Series I went around with a can of gasoline. The neighbors must have thought I was some kind of Canuck. The fires were still smoldering three days later.

Soon, some of the slough’s former tenants began to return. A mated pair of mallards came first, winging from one end of the slough to the other till they finally angled in for a landing in the skinny stretch of water I’d opened. Then came a school of tiny black fish, a spotted frog, and a muskrat, only his nose breaking the surface at dusk to leave a hallucinogenic wake.

A momma mud duck tended after her crop of babies. When they heard you coming they leapt from the water and ran along its surface like preschool ballerinas till they found hidey holes in the dogwood drooped over the banks. One morning I surprised a great blue heron standing on a waterlog, one leg tucked as it eyeballed the place for snacks. It issued an indignant squawk so loud it made my heart flutter, and then pulled itself into the air with languid strokes that had more the cadence of synchronized swimming than they did of flying.

by then I was close to being finished with the restoration. Only a half-dozen cottonwood trunks were still floating around in the slough, and they were so massive the pickup couldn’t pull them ashore. Standing in the water, working like a tug, I maneuvered these hundred-foot behemoths against the banks and anchored them to the brush with yellow rope while Radish took free rides on their backs.

The next day I rose from bed creaking as if I’d been gang-tackled by the Oakland Raiders, and made my way down to the slough with coffee and a lawn chair. For the first time since I’d discovered it, I intended to sit by this water without feeling the neurotic obsession to make it better. And, in fact, it could no longer be made better. There wasn’t even a stray leaf to mar its seamless length. The hideous reek of rotten hay that had greeted us when we first saw the slough had been replaced with the perfume of pennyroyal and wild roses. I counted 29 turtles that had climbed onto my cottonwood trunks to take the morning sun.

Since the act of cleaning the swamp had also restored its health I named it the Mabel, after my mother’s mother. When she worked as a public health nurse in the fifties, during the last days of the house call, one of Mabel’s stops was a squatter’s camp on the western edge of Great Falls, Montana, my hometown. Her patients were several families of Indians clustered in shacks and cars littered across a scrubby bluff above the Sun River valley. There were Blackfeet there, Cree, Chippewa and métis of many flavors, landless people who weren’t welcome on the reservations, or wouldn’t live there. Everyone called the place Hill 57, and not just because of this stew of tribal affiliations; in the 1920s the H. J. Heinz company put up the number “57” in whitewashed sandstone on the bluff to bring attention to its fifty-seven fine products.

Sometimes when I drift around in my rowboat or sit in the broadgrass to absorb the Mabel’s serenity, I’m reminded of my grandmother. I remember the photographs she loved to take, which always won blue ribbons at the Montana State Fair. Most of her pictures were black and white portraits of the denizens of Hill 57. One was of a woman so old she could recount scenes from the Indian wars. You could get mesmerized by that face, by the depth of the wrinkles and their number, an infinite criss-crossing of lines that mimicked the pattern of game paths after a rain. And next to this picture was one of a landscape that captures a creek in a cold snap radiating steam as it cuts its way through fresh snow. It was the purity of this scene that appealed to me then, that still appeals to me, a place sweetly indifferent to the camera, innocent and absent of malice.

Part Three. On a frozen Sunday when I was ten, I stood in my flannel pj’s decorated with rearing stallions and glared with contempt at the church clothes I’d flung on the bed. Here was a starched white shirt, a clip-on bowtie, wool slacks so scratchy they might as well have been lined with thistles, a checkered sports coat, a pair of oxfords, and a ludicrous black fedora.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” my old man suddenly bellowed.

When I opened my bedroom door and looked around the house, I discovered it was empty. My dad had disappeared, and so had my six-year-old sister, Laura. The back door had been thrown open, admitting a wall of frigid air, so I went there to see what I could see. And what I saw left me utterly bewildered. There was the old man, butt-naked, his breath rising in angry clouds, charging down the snowy slope behind the house to Sand Coulee Creek, a ribbon of wind-polished ice winding through the shabby rural sprawl we called Rat Flats. I wrapped my skinny arms around my bony self and shivered and stared.

When he got to the creek he fell to his knees and skittered across it like a fugitive in a prison flick. Had he caught on fire like those people you read about who suddenly burst into flames? Maybe the neighbors had had their fill of him and opened fire. Was he drunk?
Then I saw the hole, a devious blue crease. Suddenly uncoiling, he plunged his arm into it, his 225 pounds of muscle and sinew straining as he groped for something within. The air stunk of smoke from the coal furnaces everyone used. Danny, our Labrador, was out on the ice too, barking at the crease the same way he did when he trapped prairie rattlers against the chicken coop.

Dad lunged twice and brought forth a steaming thing in a fleecy blue snowsuit. Although I had begun to sense the importance of what was taking place, I only had one reference for what I was seeing: the breech birth of a neighbor’s horse that ended well when the man reached into the mare and yanked her astounded foal into the world. What Dad was now rushing back to the house wasn’t a foal, of course. It was Laura. As he strode by, the sodden little doofus yowling in his arms, one of her skates trailing a lace, I saw that his face was lathered with shaving cream. Laura had disobeyed the rule about skating alone and was saved only because the old man happened to glance through the bathroom window as she crashed through the ice.

The next day I lay beside the crease and studied its architecture, fascinated by the fact that the ice had become as dangerous as it was fun. In the summer, the Sand Coulee was a simple, good-natured yokel whose water was clean enough to drink and harbored sunfish, crawdads, even the occasional trout. The willow thickets on its banks hid pheasant and porcupines and foxes and the skunks whose smell still evokes for me the summer nights when I snuck out of the house to sit on the roof of my fort in a warm wind and search the sky for UFOs. We swam in the creek every day, dropped into it from the tire swing roped to the overhanging limb of a big box elder, poled around in it on our rafts and constructed elaborate mud cities on its shores.

In the winter, the creek became a different sort of sanctuary. It was a snap to skate the 300 yards from our place to the lagoon where the Missouri accepted the little stream, but what I really wanted to do was skate the other way, past Tracy and Centerville, hamlets I’d heard about but never seen, all the way to the source of the creek, wherever that was, where I would build a treehouse and live by stealing chickens and eggs from ranches. It wasn’t just the easy pleasure of forward motion that seduced me when I took to the ice, but also the chance to escape all the unpredictable emotional weather back at the house. But when I was old enough to mount a serious quest, it was too late.

Part Four. Instant snow removal is the key to perfect ice. This is a fact of winter in western Montana I had to learn the hard way. I’d been spoiled as a boy by wind that whistled across the Sand Coulee so incessantly snow just didn’t have the chance to pile up. But on the Pacific side of the Continental Divide, wet, balmy fronts from the west slug it out all winter with arctic air pushing south from Canada. Midnight rain can give way, by dawn, to two feet of powder the afternoon sun reduces to slush, which freezes by midnight. After hissy, pathetic gusts announcing a front, all this weather usually happens in silence; putting up a windmill here would be no more profitable than tilting at one.

There is even the odd season when most ice in this part of the state doesn’t thicken enough to skate on. That’s never the case, however, with the Mabel. Its bed is insulated and shaded by the jungle that surrounds it, like a beer cooler, so once it freezes it seems to absorb more cold and freeze even deeper. Snow left to melt on the Mabel will eventually freeze as well, causing leprous disfigurements—welts and pits and hedgerows or the crumbly, porous stuff called Crackers or even that bulbous, lumpy outrage called Casserole.

Then there’s the horror of Snot Ice. Appearing on cold mornings after massive thaws, it looks like perfect ice, but it’s not. If you hit it at speed your blades will slice through it to the layer of water or air underneath and you’ll find yourself flat on your face in a very pronto manner. The object of snow management is Glaze, that flawless, diaphanous glass that can only be laid down when a soft rain or thaw is followed by a hard freeze. Or when I can summon the energy to Zamboni it, flooding the ice with a garden hose or buckets of water drawn from a hole I’ve chopped.

Of course, I knew none of this the day the restored Mabel was finally frozen and ready for business. I thought I was ready too. It had been three decades, but I was convinced that skating was as indelible a muscle memory as riding a horse. For a week the weather had been clear and sharp, with lows of zero and small melts in the afternoons. There had been no snow nor was there any threat of it. I put on kneepads and went down to the Mabel with a pair of old hockey skates bandaged with duct tape. I laid the skates on my lawn chair and walked out onto the ice in my rubber pig farmer boots with the sort of mincing steps you’d employ on a ledge. Radish cocked his head like a bird and pawed at the hard thing his swimming hole had become. As usual, he started barking. After I’d gone a few steps there was a groan as the Mabel adjusted to my weight, and a rumbling crack that echoed back from the Bitterroot Range all the way on the other side of the river. But after this scare I walked the length of my ice without incident, then back, looking for devious blue creases. There were none. What I did find was Glaze nine inches thick. My pulse was racing. There was no longer any excuse to put it off.

 I laced my skates and stepped forth with ankles wobbling and feet that felt bound. I expected to go down in a sprawl with a cracked vertebrae or a shattered kneecap. But right from the beginning there was verifiable forward motion, halting at first, no faster than a runaway Rascal in a nursing home hallway, but velocity that increased as I gained a bit of confidence.

Then it all came back: The angle of the stroke you use to push yourself forward, the bent knees and stooped posture of the amateur seeking balance, the swinging hips, the gliding rhythm. I made my way along the route I had walked, Radish trotting beside me on the bank, deeply confused. A neighbor doing breakfast dishes in her trailer looked up, startled to see someone in the back yard. Or maybe what alarmed her was the sight of a middle-aged man on skates. Her husband, like most of your regular-type husbands on Tuesday mornings on our country lane, was off sleep-walking through a 12-hour shift at the paper mill. I waved, happy to be here instead of there.

I tried some backward skating, which I had begun to learn as a kid because not knowing how put you at a disadvantage in hockey. But when my feet nearly went out from under me I decided I wasn’t ready yet for anything in reverse. Plowing ahead, I skated six laps, about three miles, then fell winded into my chair. Sweat rolled down my spine. My ankles would no longer support me. I closed my eyes against the sun glaring off the ice and whispered to my thudding heart. Whoa, there, big fella.

Part Five. The Sand Coulee Creek rises from a box canyon at 6,000-feet between Tiger Butte and Black Butte in the Little Belt Mountains on the northwestern edge of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. After the streamlet issues from a gap in these piney woods it wanders north for twenty miles through the gullies of the foothills and edges around a plateau called the Dutch Bench till it reaches the steppes south of Great Falls.

There it enters an ancient channel of the Missouri that the big river abandoned at the end of the last Ice Age, and flows west till it finds the river itself seven miles later. From the highest ground around, the Highland Cemetery, you can see the whole course of the Sand Coulee. The windy brown prairie it wanders across is still covered with short grass and prickly pear, just as it was when Lewis and Clark made their portage here around the great falls. But the gangs of grizzly bears they reported are gone and there’s no sign of the herds of buffalo whose numbers, the explorers said, turned the grasslands black. The generation of men who came here with my great-grandfather killed them all.

As a child all I cared about the creek was that it supplied me with swimming in the summer and skating in the winter. And after I left home for college, turning my back on one life to embrace another, I stuffed my childhood in a box and pushed it away. When I opened this box a quarter century later and went forth to see if the jumbled memories inside matched anything in the real world the first thing I turned to was the Rand McNally road map I keep in the Bronco. I was stunned. Right there was Hound Creek to the west and Belt Creek to the east, but between them where the Sand Coulee should have been was nothing but empty white space. For one irrational moment I wondered if I had simply fabricated a whole young life with the creek at its center in an extreme case of the spin our minds put on all childhood recollections, much the same way that it orders the random flashes of neurons during sleep into scenes that feel coherent, at least during the playing of a dream. 

But I was reassured when I bought one of those wonderful contour maps made by the Defense Mapping Agency, and found the Sand Coulee right where it’s supposed to be. This map compresses into a rectangle of three square feet the 7000 square miles that would have been toasted if the Commies had chosen to visit Malmstrom Air Force Base and its missile wing with a thermonuclear surprise. The topography of this map is raised in vinyl, so when I close my eyes and run my fingers over it as if it were braille, I can feel the mountains and the benches and the grooves that are the beds of the streams. I can trace the Sand Coulee and even feel the oozes such as Walker Coulee and Number Five Coulee that feed it as it makes its way home. And when I open my eyes the three-mile loop of the creek that was my playground lay exactly where it should be. Here is Pottsylvania, an acre of wild pink roses and box elder trees cradled under a chalky bank cut by a meander. Although we didn’t know who owned this land we claimed it as our own under the banner of the Legion of Pottsylvania, a gang of Rat Flats kids organized under my dictatorship who hacked a “national highway” through the brush, traded with one another using stacks of Credits, the national currency I typed on my little portable and wrinkled for authenticity, and fought dirt clod wars with the kids from neighboring Slobovia.

In the late fifties the first ribbons of some mysterious rust appeared in the Sand Coulee’s languid current. Although the well water along the lower creek contained so many minerals it smelled like old eggs, and when used for irrigation stained buildings and trees, this rust was noxious and unnatural. At first no one knew what it was, and no one seemed to care. This was still years before Lady Bird Johnson’s campaign to beautify America, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, an era when Montanans tearing across their state on highways with no speed limits in unsound vehicles without seatbelts routinely heaved their empties out the window, piped industrial waste and raw sewage straight into their rivers, and piled the rusted bodies of these same death traps on the banks to keep the water from stealing their overgrazed land.

When you look closely at the Pentagon’s map it’s clear what killed the Sand Coulee. There are several gangs of killers, actually, each one marked by a crossed pick and ax. These were mining adits, shafts dug into hillsides in the creek’s drainage beginning in 1876 to get at the seams of bituminous coal in something called the Morrison Formation, which had once been a Jurassic swamp. One of these adits was up Walker Coulee only five miles from the house. In the self-serving and self-destructive manner of all things wrought by man, these coal mines kept us from freezing to death—a fact I was reminded of every day when I hauled buckets of ash from the furnace to the dump in a field behind the house. The mines had been so poorly engineered that groundwater fed by rain and snow began leaching metallic residues like iron and potassium and arsenic and lead out of the abandoned adits and into the creek.

Along the poisoned Sand Coulee the frogs and the turtles disappeared first, then the crawdads and finally the fish. When the central Montana climate reverted to the dry side of its cycle, which means less than fifteen inches of rain a year, the creek dried up. The rust piled in layers and baked to a bloody grit that sun devils sucked into the air. Like England after Gwenivére’s infidelity and Lancelot’s betrayal, Pottsylvania was stifled.

Part Six. I woke up the morning after my first skate on the Mabel to find a foot of wet snow on the ground, a ton more coming down. In the Jungle, a four-acre briar patch between the Mabel and the Cajun, the hawthornes were bent double under the weight. That night their thorny branches would freeze to the ground, molding them into a weird topiary of permanent goblin-shaped mounds."

I didn’t worry about the effect of the blizzard on the Mabel because I didn’t know enough yet to worry. And besides, my feet were too sore to skate anyway. But when I walked down that afternoon just to admire my fine green Glaze again I was horrified to discover that not only had the snow not been blown away as it always was on the Sand Coulee, the weight of it had fractured the ice and flooded the snow and ruined everything. That night the temperature dropped to zero. Next morning my Mabel was ridged and pocked and zitted, worthless to anyone except the whitetails who crossed it to get from their hidey holes in the forest to our haystack. The evidence of their larcency was the loose hay on the ground they spun into whorls as they ate. But by the end of the week a warm rain smoothed the Mabel’s skin, and when the temperatures dropped again my Glaze was back.

The next time it snowed I was all over the Mabel at once with a shovel. I soon gave up the notion that I could clean off a quarter mile of ice by hand, but after a couple of hours I had opened enough to skate laps. Then the shovel broke. Kitty came down once to watch me sweat and steam in the sun.

“I decided to train for the Elfstedentocht.”

“Say again?”

“The skating race in Holland. You know, from city to city.”

At dinner I looked up from my corn bread to find her staring at me. “What,” I said.

“So you’re going to waste all morning every time it snows?”

“Waste?” I said, patting my belly. “Yuppy scum pay good money for this kind of work-out.”

“If it’s just the exercise why don’t you shovel off the driveway?”

Of course, fitness had nothing to do with it. But I couldn’t explain the sense of emancipation I felt when I skated on the Mabel because I didn’t understand it myself. I hoped its source was something interesting and profound, and not just a cliché: I was taking up juvenile sports again in order to ward off the implications of my approaching fiftieth birthday and its promise of desiccation to come; or I just wanted to feel again after all these years the breathless ardor a child feels as the game begins; or I was bored with the unfinished man I’d become and had fallen in love with the happy boy I now believed I had been.

I figured it wouldn’t take much of a shrink to identify the strains of anger, paranoia and disappointment underlying my affair with the Mabel, but where would that get me? I’d still have to clear off the ice. The solution, I realized, was cheaper and in the short run way more cost-effective than therapy: Sears.

I found the snowblowers lined up like an armada of fighter planes. They ranged from a bantamweight with 3.8 horsepower to a ten horsepower gangster.

“What is it sir you are having to blow?”

I knew this voice instantly. When I turned around there he was, my favorite Bengali salesman. The birdsong of his accent wasn’t any more Americanized than it had been when he’d sold me a dryer on sale a year earlier. (“You cannot go wrong, sir, with the Wrinkle Guard feature,” he had promised.)

“Well, there’s a patio,” I said.

The salesman patted the baby bear model. “Very adequate for such a task.”

“And a driveway. A long one.”

He pointed to the mama bear version. “Five horsepower and many choices of blowing angles.”

“And a quarter-mile of ice.”

“Oh, my.”

“For skating.”

His eyebrows lifted and a smile of good fortune spread over his face as he slid the side of one hand across the palm of the other.

In the end, of course, I went home with the papa bear model and two attachments. I knew Kitty would hit the roof, so I picked up a bribe. When she lifted out the pair of bone-white figure skates from their box I saw that she had been expecting something made of silk instead.

“What did you really buy?”

“A snow thing.”

“You mean another shovel?”

“Not exactly.”

I led her out to the pickup and my glowering new machine.

 “If it keeps snowing like this we’re going to need something to dig us out,” I reasoned. I could see that this shot connected. In fact, we’d already been trapped once that winter, and had to hire a neighbor with a plow the driveway.

When she asked the price my answer was only 20 percent false. Her mouth fell open.
“Hey, I’ll do the road right now,” I offered, seizing the opportunity of the snow that was beginning to fall again.

The papa bear sucked up the six inches of dry powder on our driveway like a crackhead in a coke factory and sprayed it contemptuously into the pasture. An hour later a raisin-colored overcast moved in, the temperature began to rise and the snow turned wet. I abandoned the driveway and hurried down to the Mabel to set loose the beast before my newest layer of Glaze was compromised. Things were clockwork at first but as the afternoon grew warmer the screws that stripped the snow from the ice and hurled it through the blower got clogged with slush. I cleaned them out as best I could with a stick. But finally, blubbering and whining, the papa bear—triumph of American technology—just gave up. The ice I couldn’t liberate began to sink under the weight of what would be a record snowfall.

By noon I was able to clear a rough path along the driveway for the pickup. Even in four-wheel-drive I barely made it out. When I pushed the papa bear through the doors at Sears,  my salesman saw me and hurried over, stricken. Snow-blowers just don’t seem to work very well against real wet snow, I told him, though they are dynamite with powder. His eyes were liquid and sorrowful but totally uncomprehending. Then I felt a force at my back and turned around. Sears had fallen silent and dreamy and, except for one section of floor space, completely dark. And in that space, glowing with menace, was a column of riding mowers fitted with snowplows.

Look away, I told myself.

The Conclusion. That spring a young black bear moved into the Jungle, attracted by the maze of hiding places the weird topiary of the Jungle offered, and its wild raspberries. We saw him from time to time when he made his way from the vineries to drink from the Mabel.

The horses would bolt in their pens, wide-eyed and snorting, but they soon grew used to the bear’s smell, and peace returned. I built a dock as a platform for my irrigation pump, and spent the first hot afternoon of May throwing pebbles from it into the water for Radish to swim after, an easy way for me to scour off the beggar’s lice he had gotten into that morning. Then I jumped in myself for a little of the helpless flailing I call swimming.

The Mabel froze early that fall. I fell twice on it trying to get down my strokes for skating backwards, and my knee swelled up like a bag of microwave popcorn. After it healed I picked dead leaves off the ice before they could absorb the sun and melt holes in the shape of themselves. Near Thanksgiving the heavens opened and a foot of perfect powder fell down. I thought: Snow, you bastard. I am no longer your slave.

Pheasants exploded into the air and dogs howled when I revved up my 15.5-horsepower Sears Craftsman riding mower with its automatic transmission and its Kohler Command engine and its four-foot snowplow. After I made quick work of the driveway, which pleased Kitty, I rumbled down the bank and onto the Mabel, the chains on the back tires clattering ominously. In a half hour I was done. The Mabel sparkled.

The next day we had a hockey game. A dance professor accidentally smacked a crime reporter in the face with her stick during the heat of battle and broke his nose. Radish rushed to lick the blood from the ice, rolling his eyes in pleasure.

During the holidays a horde of in-laws foregathered at Dark Acres for a week to play cards and gossip about horses. On Christmas Eve, under a bone moon, we lit a bonfire and took to the ice for an hour of sport before our nightly games of pitch and boo-ray. Kitty looked dreamy as she sailed across the ice in her new skates. The kids sped around, hissing at the adults and pulling at Kitty’s mother, whose knee pads and elbow pads and Carhart coveralls made her look like the Michelin Man’s wife.

After everyone else tired I decided to take one last spin alone. It was time. I glided to the far end of the Mabel, Radish at my side. Then, as the moon cast my shadow before me, I skated home backwards.