The rescue: when things go wrong out on the ice.

Pulling a wounded skater out of Northeast Creek

Pulling a wounded skater out of Northeast Creek

We spend a lot of time on the ice — fishing, skating, ice walking, doing yoga, and having winter picnics. Winter naps have been discussed, but without a blanket I’m going to leave that for another day.

We also take cars and snowmobiles out when conditions are right. All of these activities require commonsense, and an ability to read the ice. But even when the ice is fine, things can go wrong.

My husband wore his creepers, I had my skates, and late one afternoon we set off to have a Sunday drive kind of trip on Northeast Creek.

Another skater arrived as we were getting ready to head up the creek. He told us that his wife wasn’t interested in going up the creek when it was less than twenty degrees out, but he was hungry to skate, the ice was so perfect, and so he came alone. We left him lacing up and set off.

My husband was pulling a sled and ice chisel, and wanted to look for a good place to set traps for mummichogs. I don’t know what these are other than little fish, but they have a great name, and he likes to use them for live bait.

Northeast Creek on Mount Desert Island meanders through a bog. This ice road has many curves, and every time you get around one there is another view of mountains, fields, or wide expanse of bog to admire. There is also plenty of animal sign along the edges. We followed the slides and bound marks of a pair of otter, seeing holes where they went in and out of the water. I skated back and forth as he checked for the little fish, and we slowly made progress up the stream. After a few curves the skater caught up with us. It turns out he and my husband had some mutual friends, so we talked for a bit, but he was anxious to do some serious skating and soon had disappeared from sight.

My husband gave up on the bait, and we left the sled on the shore to go further into the creek. At each fork in the ice road we made a choice of direction. When we felt the sun start to get low, and the temperature begin to drop, we were a couple of miles from our start. We decided to go to the next curve and then turn back.

Around that last corner a black shape was heading towards us, low on the ground. At first we guessed coyote, or dog, but the gait was odd. It was the skater. One leg was stretched out at his side, and he was using his arms to propel himself forwards in little hops, looking like a partridge madly faking a broken wing.

He was really glad to see us, and in a lot of pain. I skated back for the sled, and we got him on board. Then, out in the middle of nowhere, a couple approached through the woods. Suddenly it was a party. They offered to head back for help, but the sun was sinking, and the sled was the best option.

I gave our patient a cup with hot spiced chaga chai from our thermos, wrapped a scarf around him, and off we set. My husband pulled the sled, claiming it was easier to do it himself, and I followed, like a member of a royal retinue. We talked all the way, distracting him from the pain, but every once in a while he said, “You saved my life.” I don’t think we did, but it was getting late, and it would not have been a fun hop and slide back to the road.

I drove him to the hospital, my husband followed with the skater’s car, and we left him warm and safe. He hobbled to our house a week or so after, with a bottle of wine and box of chai tea. He had a pulled hamstring, and would heal.

He said he skated a lot, and from what little we saw he looked like an excellent skater. The ice was strong and fine, but his blade had gone into a crack, and down he went, deep in Northeast Creek, deep in a dead zone.

It could have been my husband or I who fell, or we could have turned back before we saw the skater, or we could have not brought the sled.There are lots of “couldas” that fortunately did not happen, instead everything was fine. Well, except for that hamstring, perhaps.

Everything was fine, and we were reminded once again that is something waiting around every corner.


The sun was going down when we encountered the skater

The sun was going down when we encountered the skater

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Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.