For weeks I have visited, every day, the Web page where the City of Madison posts press releases. For weeks I have sought a particular piece of good news there.
And at last, yesterday afternoon, my eye lit on the words that made my inner Homer Simpson yell "Woohoo!": "There are four outdoor ice rinks open today."
Yes, at long last, after an eerily mild winter, the thermometer has been below freezing long enough for there to be safe skating at Westmorland Park, Olbrich Park, Vilas Park and, my neighborhood favorite, Tenney Park. The Tenney Park lagoon stretches for acres, and when it is frozen over and ready for skating, it is my favorite place in Madison.
People who grew up with serious winters like Wisconsin's may think me too enthusiastic. But where I grew up, in Nashville, Tenn., ice skating is a pastime that can only be enjoyed indoors, at rinks where the activity is tightly regimented. Skaters skate en masse in one direction at a time, only: clockwise, or sometimes -- for thrills -- counterclockwise. And woe betide the nonconformist who skates too fast! Rink employees put a stop to that.
But at Tenney Park, you can skate as fast as you like, in any direction you like, and still you will be in no one's way. Pickup hockey games form there (though none are allowed yet, this season), and when people are not skating, they sometimes just stand on the ice in small groups, in their skates, talking.
By the time I made it to the lagoon last night, it was dark. The hour was 8 p.m., and the park was due to close at 9:30. But there was plenty of time for a quick spin.
In the warming hut, where skates were being rented out by a bearded park employee, there were only a few people. A couple of university students were talking about seminar papers, and a young man was helping two small children prepare for the ice. The younger child, a boy of about two, wept copiously as his skates were strapped on, while the older one, a girl perhaps two years older, clomped around cheerfully on her blades.
I strapped on my own blades, a pair of hockey skates that seemed an unimaginable luxury when I bought them many years ago, in my days as a penniless freelance writer. They served me well then, and they still do.
Out on the ice, only six or seven skaters were gliding about. Much of the lagoon was closed to skating -- the north end near Sherman Avenue, and the west end along Marston Avenue -- but there still was plenty of room, seemingly a couple of football fields' worth.
As cars whizzed by on Johnson Street, next to the ice, I practiced a couple of sharp stops, and then did a bit of backward skating. (I had a breakthrough on backward skating a couple of winters ago.) The ice was rough in places, but the skating was otherwise glorious: The air was bracing, the sky was clear, and it felt wonderful to be out in the cold.
I hope we get to have a few more nights like that on Tenney Park lagoon, global warming or no global warming.
After too short an interval, the bearded employee came outside to announce that skating time was nearly over. A few minutes later, the lights went out on the lagoon, and I skated back to the warming hut in darkness.