Rarely has spring come to southern Maine as early as it did this year. Well before the end of March, the ice on most area lakes had melted. In the 1960s and 1970s when I grew up in Shapleigh on Mousam Lake, I don’t remember “ice out” happening until at least mid-April.

Ice out was a harbinger to be celebrated as a first sign of spring, but sadly, it also meant the end of winter.

Winter was full of chances to build snow forts, have snowball fights, slide down hills and play out rich childhood fantasies. Ice out was no exception.

From the time the lake froze solid until the ice in the cove turned to waves in the spring, my sister Amy and I enjoyed skating, snowmobiling and exploring around the camps that were closed for the winter. Possessed of lively imaginations, we also used the exposed tree roots along the shoreline as our pretend houses.

When we got tired of exploring, we pestered the ice fishermen from Sanford who set up their shanties near our house in Ham’s Cove. I remember an angler who was especially tolerant of chatty little girls — he probably had one of his own. He gave us hot dogs cooked on a campfire and a Coke, probably in an attempt to get us to let him fish in peace.

I remember feeling no fear or sense of danger. In those days kids were still allowed to run free all day and trusting people was the rule, not the exception. Like other outdoor activities my sister and I enjoyed as tomboys — climbing trees, balancing on stonewalls and playing house in the woods — ice out was another opportunity for adventure.

One of the attractions of ice out was seeing if an ice shack would sink into the lake because its owner was too lazy — we imagined — to haul it out before it was too late. In our minds, this justified the loss of his shack.

Lakefront residents never knew what would show up on their shores when the ice started to melt: Paddles, life preservers, toys, lawn chairs and buoys were among the treasures.

One year when I was 11 or 12, the water was especially high when most of the ice in front of our house had melted. My sister and I hit pay dirt when an upside-down dock washed up in front of the house. With old boards also fished from the water, we jumped aboard and paddled our way to a corner of the cove, never giving a thought to the frigid water.

We kept the “boat” tied up until my dad noticed or it broke free, I can’t remember which. It became our impromptu vessel on a few days, recollecting as I got older “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” — albeit on a much smaller scale.

Much like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown each fall, year after year on Memorial Day, when the water was barely warmer than it was in April, I would lure my little sister to the end of the dock on the pretense of seeing a giant spider or fish. Then I would unceremoniously push her in.

After all, what’s an adventure without an element of risk?

 

– Special to the Telegram