Winter Means Different Things to Kids than to Adults
Christina Rossetti’s 19th century carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” pretty much explains why many older Vermonters head south for a few months this time of year:
In the bleak midwinter,
Ice and snow, hallmarks of a Vermont winter, may seem bleak to those of us seeking warmth at home and safe passage on the road, but not to children.
Adults may contemplate shoveling and plowing (and, possibly, falling), but children are reaching for sleds and skis and ice skates!
In communities all across the north country, ponds are cleared, and rinks are flooded, providing ice for budding Michelle Kwans and Wayne Gretskys.
Looking down upon the cacophonous scene of skating activity at the Randolph Village rink never fails to remind me of Pieter Breugel’s paintings of Flemish village life. Parents gingerly lead the very young, or kneel a few feet away, encouraging first faltering steps with arms outstretched and ready to catch. Clutches of young girls with bright white Christmas skates, looking like young foals learning to walk, test their toe picks, and raise their arms in short faltering glides. Then there are always the smiling, gifted few, stitching the disparate elements together, arm in arm and singly, circling with graceful turns and leaps.
Off to the side, a group of young boys lace up hockey skates and grab their sticks. Spilling onto the ice as though released from the penalty box, they rumble around the far end, testing their laces, getting their legs and feet acclimated to the tight, unyielding boots and blades and the feel of the ice. Some seem to use their sticks as a third leg, dragging it along, grabbing it when needed to prevent the ignomy of falling. Others dip and weave fluidly backward, now forward, with self-satisfied assurance, eyeing the puck as it’s passed from stick to stick to stick.
The photograph we consider here was taken at the Randolph rink many years ago. This bunch was engaged in a battle for the puck when I arrived and started shooting with a telephoto. After a bit, I called out to one of the boys I knew by name, Riley Harness, at the far left. Like a gang of crows they all flew over, positioning themselves along the boards just as you see them here. I hadn’t intended to take a group portrait, but their arrangement and appearance compelled me to grab a second camera with a 50 mm lens and take this image for The Herald.
What Works Here?
A number of factors make this image a personal favorite. I played pond hockey as a kid and these boys look pretty much as we did 30 years earlier. There is something almost timeless about this simple grouping of youngsters, each unique.
I take no credit for the composition, which is simply beautiful. Note the strong horizontal sectioning of the frame with (from bottom to top of the frame) the boards in the foreground, the boys highlighted against the white expanse of ice, the boards at the back and, finally, trees, bracken, and greying snow on the embankment to the back.
Against these horizontals, the scene is punctuated by the interesting vertical shapes of hockey sticks, echoed by the vertical bracing in the foreground. The swooshing curve of the board below them unifies the group. The rise and fall of the line from left to right provides rhythm and a sense of completeness. See how the composition is strengthened by the biggest boy standing head and shoulders above, his stick breaking into the top horizontal layer. Then, the line descends, ending beautifully with the shortest lad, his head poking above the boards like a groundhog popped up from a burrow.
I see this image and can still sense the ice gliding beneath when I played as a boy. I feel my flick of wrist to the stick and hear the slap of the puck, skittering out now, and away toward the distant goal.
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