Write It Poetry
Critic's Picks: FICTION

About 3 years ago, in my 9th grade English class, I was assigned an open creative piece for homework. I wrote about what I love to do: ice skate. I set my story in Michigan, where I have spent part of every summer of my life. I know the lakes of Michigan so well, but really only their warm summer condition. The frozen, forbidding Lake Michigan in my story is a product of my imagination and stories my father has told me about winters on the lake.

Editor's Comments:
Will's story takes the reader on thrilling late-night adventure across Lake Michigan. His knowledge of ice-skating really comes through in this piece.

Skating in the Shipping Lanes

By Will Lent.
age: 17

The winter of ’62 was the year Lake Michigan froze clear across, from Manitowoc to Mackinaw, from Shelby to Sheboygan. October 20th saw the temperature hit –10F. By December 1st we’d had twenty consecutive days below –15F. The old timers said over and over that they’d never seen an early winter quite like this.

The ice pack built up quickly from the shore. Every day we looked out over the great expanse of the lake and saw a little less open water. At night, the prevailing west wind jammed huge flows up onto the beach until there was a crazy landscape of twenty-foot-high mountains of jagged ice. The ice pack seemed alive. It shifted, groaned and creaked as temperatures fell and the huge ice plates ground over and around each other.

Our small, inland lake was frozen solid three feet down before Thanksgiving. Every afternoon we’d take our shovels and skates, sticks and pucks down to the little lake. Our hockey nets were frozen solid into the ice. We’d clear off whatever snow had fallen and build up the border around our rink. We couldn’t believe our luck. This would be the longest skating season anyone could remember.

The channel that connects the little lake to Lake Michigan rarely freezes over and never very solidly. The currents ripping through the narrow channel prevent the ice cover from taking hold. We never skated too close to the mouth of the channel, knowing that the ice would be soft and unreliable. This winter, the cold and the thick ice cover on the little lake made us bold and we skated closer and closer to the treacherous channel. One day a wild shot off the crossbar of the net sent our puck skittering into the danger zone. I sprinted after it without a second thought. I reached the puck and made a quick stop. Snow sprayed up and my blades gripped with the satisfying low growl that you only hear on the hardest, most perfect ice. I was half way out of the channel and knew I could keep going.


If you grow up on the lake you learn to respect its power and unpredictability. In the summer, storms spring up in minutes, turning a lazy, glassy lake into a snarling, purple and green monster of twelve-foot breakers that snap small boats in two. In the winter, Lake Michigan’s majesty and immensity grow. Out at the edge of the ice pack, huge waves twenty feet high crash and smash the growing mountains of ice. I had grown up on this lake and knew never to fool with it.

One night late in January I was awoken by a loud crash. I bolted upright in bed and listened as the ice pack rumbled and cracked. I went to the window and scraped away the frost. The thermometer read –22F and the wind was ripping through the trees. I figured the gusts must be close to 40 miles per hour. The wind whistled off the mountains of snow and ice on the lake. A huge, white moon spread light across the snow covered dunes and the massive mounds of ice. Straight out to the horizon, to the north point and south to Little Point Sable, all I saw was a white desert of ice.

It was perfect night for a moonlight skate. I grabbed my worn-in pair of Bauers from the closet. I quietly snuck down the stairs, paying close attention to the steady breathing of my parents and brother. Running out of the house, I tripped and my skates scattered across the floor. My perfect night of skating was ruined! But the regular pattern of breathing stayed in beat and I ran out of the house for the little lake.

I laced up my skates and took my first step on to the ice. It was the best ice ever. The wind died down and all that broke the silence of the night was my blades digging into the hard ice. I started to take laps all around the lake slowing down at the channel to take a look at the frozen Lake Michigan. 

I pushed off and took long strides toward the lighthouse that marks the entrance to the big lake. I didn’t stop to think about the danger I might be in. I dug my edges deep into the crystal ice and fell into a strong, easy rhythm, striding due west toward the middle of the lake.

The night was absolutely silent. Nothing existed beyond the narrow path I skated on and the open ice that spread before me. I didn’t tire. I didn’t feel the cold. I felt as though I could keep up this pace forever. “Where does the ice end?” I thought to myself.

Suddenly, a ghostly gray hulk rose out of the dark before me. A huge oil tanker, frozen in the grip of the lake ice, blocked my progress toward the horizon. Where was I? Why was this huge vessel caught in the ice? How far had I skated? I turned to look behind me, expecting to see the beach and the lighthouse. There was no shoreline, no comforting green light from the lighthouse. I was consumed by an overwhelming realization. I was skating in the shipping lanes in the middle of the great Lake Michigan.

I turned from the derelict tanker and saw that the full moon laid down a path of light across the ice sheet. I pushed off and began the long, slow skate, following the moonlight back to shore, back to my warm bed.


A thin shaft of sunlight worked its way through the pine branches and ended on my face. I opened my eyes, half expecting to see ice flows and the moon. I closed my eyes again and an image of a ghost ship floated by. I looked around my room and noticed my skates in the doorway. The blades sat in a small puddle of water and there were still a few crystals of snow and ice clinging to the steel, about to melt away forever.

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