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Neighbor to Neighbor: Ice sports present peril to SE Queens skaters

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So far this winter, as I have shoveled snow, walked and dragged my shopping cart across hard, lumpy ice or through slushy crosswalks, I keep trying to remember the tune that praises “walking through a winter wonderland.”

Winter can be and often is absolutely gorgeous. There are moments of pure magic when snow and frost have covered every pine needle, bough and blade, and frozen droplets in sun’s rays become dazzling jewels fit for royal crowns.

In the days of my youth, there was a radio program called “The Shadow.” A deep, ominous voice announced at the beginning of each performance, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” For some, the beauties of winter can be a feast of our craving for perfection. It can also hide treachery.

Every year, in spite of repeated warnings, there are those who choose to be defiant and ignore the signs to stay off thin ice. Many have fallen through — never to be seen alive again — and sometimes have been responsible for the deaths of those attempting to rescue them. There have been incidents in Baisley Pond as well as in the Twin Ponds in southeast Queens.

Going through our Queens parks this winter, visitors will notice red rescue boards in various locations. These boards help rescuers prevent unnecessary drownings, but we would rather they not have to be used. So, please, do not venture onto any local lakes or ponds no matter how cold it has been, and keep children and animals off as well. Ice skating can be fun and good exercise, but it should be done in a rink for the sake of safety.

Falling through the ice is no laughing matter. After graduation I worked for an engineering company for about 25 years. During that time, I ran various extracurricular company activities, including skiing and skating trips to colder climes. One year we had two bus loads heading north for the long presidents’ birthday weekend. There had been plenty of snow, so when we took to the slopes we were not too surprised to find great crowds of people.

We were surprised, however, to find the sun so hot that everyone was skiing in shirts instead of sweaters and jackets. What had happened was the beginning of the dreaded February thaw. It was good fun skiing minus our bulky outerwear, but even before the trip began I suspected there was an approaching cold, which seemed to be gaining momentum with each passing hour.

I wanted to participate in everything possible. After skiing, we had dinner at the lodge, followed by a horse-drawn sleigh ride during which I was sandwiched between two youngsters who sneezed and coughed throughout the journey and then fell asleep with their heads resting against my shoulders.

At that point I still had not come down with a cold, but that did not make me feel less vulnerable. The next day we skied only a short time because there were too many people. Most of us opted to go for a dogsled ride, which took place on a nearby lake. We had asked about the safety of that lake before making reservations and were told it was frozen solid.

When we arrived lakeside, we had no reason to suspect anything to the contrary. Besides the teams of dogs, their masters and their sleds, there were a large number of skaters as well, whom we planned to join after our ride. The ride went well, and so did the skating; however, when I decided I had enough, I exited the skating area via a shortcut to the lodge.

The shortcut was still covered by a deep blanket of snow near the shallow end of the lake. I hadn’t realized that the February thaw had begun and started to melt the ice under that snow. I knew something was wrong when I took a step forward and instead started sinking. The water was very cold but luckily not any deeper than up to my waist.

Until I reached the bottom of the lake, I was absolutely helpless. I waded out and knew I was lucky that I had only caught a cold. I was still alive and had not had to bother anyone else except a local doctor to whom I appealed for a quick shot of penicillin. So, remember, stay off thin ice.

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