Some skaters glided in a professional way, others were more awkward, as though trying to remember a dance step that would soon come back.
They skated in pairs or alone,. children held onto a parent for dear life, their strides looking as precarious as when they first learned to walk.
The sun shone bright, early in the day, and the air was clear and cold, making the weather perfect for skating. The skaters, bundled warmly in colorful clothes, seemed not to mind the afternoon's lowering temperatures.
Stocking caps in all shapes and hues, brightly colored sweaters and Parkas, some with long scarves trailing behind as their wearers skated around the ice, the colors blending in and out to create a moving painting.
Although the ice was a little bumpy along the Potomac between Memorial and 14th Street Bridges, more adventurous skaters enjoyed the excitement of crossing the river to the Virginia shore and back again.
A young father with a rope attached to his waist pulled a warmly wrapped child sitting on a plastic tricycle along behind him.
A rump hockey game made of shouting boys and girls turned the frozen Potomac into a pond for the day. Ice turns the everyday world into a special, magic place that holds its own images, its own memories, so that each time you enter it, all those old remembrances flood back . . .
The scene was the same in each frozen pool along the Mall, and the skaters who glided along in a more professional cadence may have thought of days when they lived in places where skating was more a part of winter life than it is now in Washington.
They might thought of a pound or a lake not far from the house where they were always warned by worried parents to stay near the edges and not go out to the middle. There was always a foolhardy boy who would skate out to the middle to show off in front of a girl who wasn't even looking.
It could have been a local park the city would flood during really cold spells, and the message, "They flooded the green last night," would go through the school faster than a fire frill.
The park we went to was called Ferryway Green and was used for all seasonal sports, but when it was flooded it became a place for teh young and old to enjoy.
The younger kids wore hand-me-down skates with brown lacings that broke when they were tied, making it hard to tie knots with freezing fingers.
For some kids the skates may have been too big and they would have to wear two or three pairs of stocks.
If two friends had close-to-the-same-size feet and only one pair of skates between them, they could make a pair by putting their arms around each others' shoulders and pushing along with one foot.
Older boys made whips by forming a long single line and clutching hands with a sailor's grip. They would move fast, up the ice, and the first one would stop and crack the whip, sending the last skater whizzing away across the ice.
Lean guys and girls wearing tight clothes and skates with straight, fast-looking blades would speed around the outskirts of the crowd movig expertly in and out among the slower skaters.
In an area with less activity, dating couples and older people would glide along with arms crossed in front while they held hands, moving in perfect rhythm to silent music only skaters in love could hear.
At the other end of the park in the hockey rink, it was all business as the players, wearing all sorts of makeshift equipment, banged away at each other. It was only a few years until you were old enough to get a part-time job and buy a pair of hockey a tublars, a hockey stick and some make-shift equipment and get invited into a game.
It was also a time when a girl that you saw in school but never talked to would wave as she skated by, and you could move alongside knowing that somehow ice skating became a neutral ground for conversation.
It was a long walk with a girl to the reservoir on the other side of town when the two of you went for your first night skating date. You wondered along the way if you should ask to carry her skates and whether you should help her put them on, and you decided it was better not to in case you were seen by your gang.
The surface of the reservoir curved in a large kidney-shaped formulation. Along the banks wooden paths led down to large trees along the water's edge. Here and there between the large rock formations fires in big tin barrels would be fed wood by the skaters.
The people in charge would clear the ice by 10 o'clock, and there was always a place to fo and get warm drink.
Later there was an older brother who met and fell in love with a secretary while they skated along the winding Charles River on their lunch hours.
Last year after five children, they celebrated their fortieth anniversary.
The sun went down and it was getting cold on the Mall and people began to leave.
At last look around the open area and the man made ponds made you wonder about the people who may have come from places like Michigan, Maine or Massachusetts. Once they may have skated on ponds with trees and boulders along the sides and had to jump over a large branch that was frozen into the surface each time they passed.
Now they had ice, but little more, to help stir their memories.