Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Skating On Thick Ice

By Cam Mather

Recently I had the greatest day of my life. Well … after my wedding day, it was the greatest day ever. Oh … and the days my daughters were born … it was the best day ever after those days. Oh, and the day I put up the wind turbine … and my new solar panels. Anyway, recently I had a red-letter day here at Sunflower Farm.

Living life on the edge like I do, this is not a surprise. Some people freebase off of mountains and other people skydive. I live an equally exciting life; sometimes leaving the water in my rain barrels even after the temperature has dropped below zero degrees (Celsius). I know, it’s crazy, it defies all logic, but I do it anyway. During the fall when I no longer require the water from the rain barrels for my gardens, I attach hoses to all of my rain barrels and I run them into the pond to help fill it up for the skating rink. This summer the pond was really low so any extra water helps. I leave the rain barrels out for as long as I can without letting them freeze. I got most of the barrels drained properly in December before the big freeze up. But just before New Years we had a major thaw. So I put a couple of garbage cans under my downspouts. I figured that I could use rainwater to flush the toilet. Why use any of my limited electricity (at this time of year with short, cloudy days) to pump water when it’s falling from the sky?

But I forgot to dump one of the garbage cans when it froze up. When I found it, it had started to freeze all around the exterior, but not on the top. I poured the water out of it and was left with this amazing massive ice glass. I’m thinking I should fill it with beer and drink from it during the Superbowl. Oh wait, I wonder if my lips would get stuck to it.

The Enormous Icy Beer Glass

It works great as a candleholder at night too. Very Martha Stewart-ish! No, it won’t bring about world peace, but it was a fun distraction.

The Ice Lantern

I’ve always fantasized about having an icebox. Before modern refrigeration this is what everyone used. A block of ice was placed in the upper chamber of the icebox, which kept your perishables cold in the lower compartment. My dad has a great antique icebox at the cottage that I’ve had my eye on. I live surrounded by lakes. A hundred years ago teams of horses and men with long saws would cut blocks of ice from frozen lakes and store them in sawdust until they were needed. Human ingenuity is a marvelous thing. Plus I have lots of sawdust!

Antique Ice Boxes (from wikicommons)

Cutting Ice on the River (from wikicommons)

Then logic takes over. My new energy efficient fridge uses about 20% of our home’s daily electricity consumption and it’s awfully convenient. So as much as an icebox sounds like a great idea, I’m probably better to just stick with my refrigerator. Especially since my fridge is “solar-powered.”  But it still appeals to me a lot. And I’d love to have an icebox in our dining room. I just think it’s so in keeping with an 1888 farmhouse.

After my fun with my giant “ice glass” I decided to check out Fifth Depot Lake. We had had a thaw and then it all froze again and we hadn’t had any snow. So we went down to visit our friends Sandy and Ellen who live off grid on the lake. It was fantastic! It was a dream come true for someone who loves to skate as much as I do. The entire lake was a massive skating rink. The distance you can cover on skates with ice like this is unbelievable.

It’s also fun to check out the things that have been frozen in the ice.

Some of the bubbles looked like a giant footprint.

An unfortunate frog must have emerged during the thaw then got frozen in the ice.

This waterweed must have been stirred up at some point and was frozen as well.

Sandy and Ellen and Michelle look a long way off here, but I could skate to them in about 30 seconds, honestly!

There is something truly invigorating and terrifying about skating on a piece of ice that is as clear as glass and is about 5 or 6 inches thick. There had been ATVs on the lake so I knew that it was more than strong enough to hold me, but there’s always that element of danger that makes it even more of a blast.

We didn’t begin skating until later in the afternoon so I wasn’t able to skate the whole lake. But I burned a lot of calories and the feeling of my inner thighs the next day told me that it had been a good workout.

The next day it snowed so I can’t go back. The opportunity has passed. Days like that are very rare. That moment is now just frozen in time for me in these photographs but it reminds me of why I moved to the country and why I continue to sacrifice potential income to live here. On a Monday afternoon when I should have been working in the office I had one of the greatest skates of my life. You can fly to all the resorts you want and try and recreate those phony happy model moments you see in their ads, but I could never enjoy myself more than when I strap on a pair of skates and enjoy skating across a frozen lake. On my deathbed I will not be saying I wish I’d spent more time making money. I will be racing down a frozen lake like a rocket. This love is deep in my Canadian soul.

Photos by Cam Mather and wikicommons.



  1. Larry

    That is really great. I remember one winter skating on the Bay of Quinte in Belleville, and it was frozen just like that. We decided to skate across to Rossmore and get a hot chocolate. The ice looked like it was more than a foot thick, so there were no worries. Not that a snot nose kid has any worries anyway. Thanks Cam. 🙂

  2. leahpomerantz

    Wow! You’ve got a great blog. Thanks.
    I was drawn here by your comments about rain barrels – we help non-profit groups raise funds by selling them. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to raise $3000+
    Thanks for your lovely stories! I’ll send my brother who lives to skate the link.

  3. Mark Mick

    I’ve been reading through your book. With our current cold spell, I was just wondering how to deal with water barrels in Winter. And then I found myself at your blog with a piece about that very subject.

    Great photos. And the ice skating looks amazing. I think I remember being at your parent’s cottage when the lake froze like an ice rink and it was out of this world!

  4. Antoinette Chambers

    Cam, we grew up in the country, in a predominately wood heated home, loving the living “in the season”. I fondly remember the large pond my grandfather and dad would clear in winter, the trucks driving down to point their headlights on the surface and the games of “anything goes” with my brothers and friends. It filled the valley with the run off of November Rains, so was very impressive. The hot chocolate was steaming, and the snow a soft landing. Thankyou for this post. Hey! Ho! Canadian Winters! Antoinette!!

  5. Linda

    Ahh, yes….skating on the river, cracks, bumps, and all! My children grew up skating on the Rideau River -my late husband and I used to spend about 6 hours shovelling off the river for skating by out family and neighbours -every time it snowed! And one year we created an “oval” around the nearly full size rink so that others could skate while a hockey game was on….then we added a curling “rink”…..and another 2 hours of shovelling! It was great fun. We always had an annual skating party for family, neighbours and friends with a bonfire down by the river and a pot luck supper in the house. Our greatest memories!

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