The Pond on the Hill

Every day presents us with a new gift. We may not be fully aware of the significance of that gift when it arrives or recognize its true value until time has been allowed to shape our perspective. It might be the gift of good news, a long awaited joy that you had been hoping and praying for. It might be an extraordinary sunset that lights up the Cove in colours that you never knew existed, azure blue streaked with hints of green and coral pink. That gift may simply be an unexpected invitation to Jigg’s Dinner that came just at the right time, after you had been dreaming about salt meat all day!

Such a gift was presented to about a dozen Branch dwellers on Tuesday evening as we gathered on the Pond on the Hill. For anyone who has never visited this informal institution of Winter, let me bring you there.

Upon leaving Branch via North Harbour Road, you pass by the happening and hip area of Beckford (where all the new houses are going up), drive over the short span of Beckford Bridge (the bridge that takes you from Planet Earth to Branch), up over the straight stretch of a hill, past Mike Gregory’s and then, on the right, you will see a small path through the woods. I realize that based on these very elementary directions, I wouldn’t do well directing search and rescue missions or leading complicated scavenger hunts! But anyway….back to the story.

A short, winding path through stands of solid balsam fir, interspersed with rabbit paths and drops of evening sunlight takes you to a sudden opening in the woods where the magnificent pond finds its home. The Pond on the Hill. It’s not a gigantic body of water but it is remarkable in its own way. It’s almost like the centerpiece of those fancy cakes - a layer of tangly tuckamore, a layer of mashy bog and then there is the pond, right in the middle.

On that particular evening, the pond was especially inviting. The combination of freezing temperatures, ice-smoothing winds and a light sprinkle of sugary snow made it perfect for skating. And so the call went out. At about 2 that afternoon, Chris put the invitation on Facebook. Come down to the Pond on the Hill after school. Everyone invited.

Armed with a thermos of hot chocolate, mini marshmallows and a mile long box of after eights, Chris led the charge. Only minutes later, a crew arrived and took to the ice. Zooming up and down, stopping only every now and then for a bit of sustenance, adults and children alike started skating. When I arrived after work, all I could see were flashes of colour going up and down the Pond. Shannon going down the pond on his lips. Chris zooming across the ice like the wind. And Kelly, you wouldn’t fool Kelly on skates either. Then there were the children, holding hands, helping each other, stopping as only children can to delight in the sound of the little marshmallows plopping into the steaming hot chocolate. Not being a skater myself, I appreciated the unconditional kindness of those children that evening. With Hailey on one side and Katie and Stella on the other, I was guided gently up and down the pond. A private skating lesson on the Pond on the Hill.

As we skated that evening and the sun started to set, casting that unmistakable evening light on the trees at the edge of the Pond, I thought about the variousness of the world, how the world was happening in so many ways and in so many places on that same Tuesday. People in San Diego, California were sun-bathing on long, sandy, crowded beaches. Peacekeepers in Aleppo, Syria were keeping war at bay. In Zuunmod, Mongolia, herdsmen were tending to their flocks of goats. In Peniche, Portugal, women were hanging out brilliant white sheets to dry in the salty wind. And on the Pond on the Hill, Branch, a few people gathered to simply enjoy those extra minutes of light in the spirit of goodness and kindness on a golden evening in January. You couldn’t ask for a better gift than that.

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