When the pond freezes, skaters take to the ice

Some children wait for the snow to fall each winter. Gary and Linda Peterson, the parents of three grown children, wait for Fisher Pond to freeze.

When it does — and after they’ve carefully drilled holes in the ice to measure its thickness and ensure its solidness — they call a few friends and head to the pond, bringing with them anywhere from 40 to 70 pairs of skates.

It doesn’t happen often — this rare weather event that turns Fisher Pond off of Bank Road into an ice-sheet solid enough to hold a 200-pound man. It happened on Saturday.

And as a result, the Petersons were there for hours, handing out skates to those who needed a pair, chatting with friends and, of course, gliding effortlessly across the pond.

Dozens of Islanders joined them.

Rowan Stewart, 13, skated with a hockey stick. His brother, Ian, sans skates, ran full-out across the ice with the family dog. Alexandra Waterworth, 18 months, appeared on the frozen pond in a purple laundry basket, pulled along by her mother, Debbie. Neil Drawbridge, a former hockey player who learned to skate as a kid in Massachusetts, flew across the ice, waiting, as he put it, “for the half-dozen, displaced, East Coast hockey players to show up.”

Like the Petersons, he’s been watching the pond for days in anticipation of this precious winter moment, although his method for determining the pond’s safety is less scientific than the Petersons’.

“I came out with my shoes on and didn’t go through,” he said, smiling.

Even unfrozen, Fisher Pond is a beloved spot on the Island. Vashon’s largest open-water pond, it was once owned by Bill Fisher, who donated the pond and adjacent property to the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust in 1998, shortly before he died. It’s now one of the jewels in the land trust’s collection of reserves, a great birding spot and a place many go to walk, drink in the beauty and experience quiet reflection.

It was a different Fisher Pond on Saturday. Ice — white and crunchy in some places, clear and smooth in others — stretched its entire length. Adults stood and talked in clusters — dispersing quickly if they heard a crack. Children ran, slid and skated. One woman twirled, figure-skating-style. A couple of dogs sprinted across the ice, losing their footing every now and then and scrambling to stay upright.

Jack Stewart was on his way to a meeting when he went past Fisher Pond and saw that people were on the ice. He didn’t make it to his meeting.

“There are bad emergencies and good emergencies,” he said as he watched his sons glide and run. “This is a good emergency.”

The Petersons are, perhaps, the king and queen of community skating on Vashon. Long-time Island residents, the Petersons taught their children to skate on Fisher Pond some 30 years ago, when the ice was so thick and the air so cold people could skate for two full weeks.

Over the years, on those rare occasions when the pond froze, they’ve had adventures on the ice. One year, for instance, they celebrated Gary Peterson’s birthday with an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen; anyone who could make it out to where the cake sat in the middle of the pond could have a piece. Another year, snow covered much of the ice, and the Petersons used shovel-like contraptions to create a serpentine path across the pond so that they could skate on Thanksgiving morning.

Delighted by their experiences on Fisher Pond, Linda Peterson started buying second-hand skates at thrift stores and garage sales several years ago, determined to share the joy of skating with others.

She now owns about 70 pairs, 40 of which she brought with her on Saturday and which she handed out to anyone who wanted to lace up.

She sat on the western edge of the pond, having just handed a friend a pair of skates, when someone asked her why she goes to such effort. Looking out across Fisher Pond, where maybe 25 people skated and strolled, she said, “Can you imagine anything more beautiful than this?”

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