By Wendy Wood Prince
Early morning the rink is smooth and ready for skaters.
Dedicated park district staffers are the only signs of life in the early dawn of a chilly winter day, a low hum, the only sound, as ice smoothingmachines are methodically pushed over the ice, smoothing the bumps and grooves from the skaters of the days and evenings before. The only witnesses are lone dog walkers out for early morning exercise. Quiet belies the noise and activity to come at the Lake Forest West Park skating “rink”. In this case, the term “rink” is used loosely. The West Park Skating rink is actually just a low area in one corner of the park that the city floods every winter to create an outdoor skating rink for all to enjoy. And enjoy they do!!
Mack Fiore enjoys the smooth ice for an for an early morning skate.
The first skaters of the day are usually solo, out for some morning exercise. The rhythmic ‘scritch’ of skates breaking the muffled silence of the cloudy morning, as they make slow circles around the rink. It is quiet and peaceful. As the morning hours pass the first few skaters are joined by others who also enjoy the peace under the winter sky.
Peaceful skating under a cloudy sky.
As mid-day arrives parents arrive with their small children to play on the ice in their winter boots or in brand new teeny tiny skates armed with child sized plastic chairs to hold onto as they push around the ice for their first ventures into the skating world. Parents are helping, encouraging and lifting their offspring up off the ice time and time again as slippery feet splay in every direction. Watching them is exhausting as they try to get their kids from the safety of the warming house to the ice on their new feet bundled in their plump snowsuits and fat mittens.
The rules are simple.
Hockey players of all ages.
Released from their daily lessons, clusters of school aged children arrive. Clumped in small groups, some still on unsteady legs, clutching each other for balance and support as others zoom past in a burst of cold wind. More chatter is heard as groups greet and gossip. Kids are feeling the freedom of the sky after the rigors of structure and confinement, finally able to socialize and feel normal. As the afternoon wears on more and more skaters of all ages materialize.
The lights come on once the sky turns deep.
A special place during a Lake Forest winter.
Spontaneous hockey scrimmages form with players ranging from the smallest mite to fully grown adults. Lots and lots of adolescent energy is expended as kids skate, display bravado and laugh the afternoon away. Hockey sticks clap the ice as pucks are flung towards goals brought from home. There is a sense of easy flirting in the air as pink cheeked glances and jostling encounters fill the air. As the sun begins its early winter setting, the sky turns romantic and moody. The rink lights turn on and the scene becomes reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, real but not. Muted laughing, dogs romping, and skates scratching as the night sky blurs the edges of reality into a surreal dreamy evening.
Simple winter pleasures.
As the dinner hour nears, stomachs begin to grumble and parents coax their reluctant children off the ice. With the sun fully set skaters slowly head home, energy spent and full of fresh air. Slowly the rink empties and quiet takes over again, leaving the park to late night dog walkers and dawdling teens soaking up the last sweet moments of a beautiful night at the park.
Sunset over West Park.