Sunday, December 20, 2009

the joy of winter

"The ice" is done. If you are a hockey player, you probably know what that means. There's plain, ordinary ice, then there's "the ice". We've had plenty of plain, ordinary ice around here since about the middle of November, but it was rough, useless, non-skateable ice that no one paid attention to except the fishermen who were sad they couldn't take their boats out anymore. Lake ice can make a good skating rink if the right conditions exist, but they usually don't, so every year the village hires someone to make a rink next to the community hall, and all the hockey players wait with bated breath until it's ready. It was close to being ready last weekend, but the intrepid ice makers decided to go the extra mile and put in lines and face-off circles, a nice touch, but one that will certainly generate arguments about off-sides and icing. And it delayed the grand opening by a week.

Anyway, last evening, I arrived home looking forward to a relaxing, couch potato-ish evening by the digital fireplace, when Phillip got a call saying the ice was done. The house was an instant chaotic, pre-first-game-of-the-year, Mom-where's-my-helmet, mad house. 15 minutes later, we were inhaling the fresh arctic air. No, we don't live in the arctic, but that -25 degree breeze comes directly from Santa's back forty at the North Pole.

I spent the first 90 seconds of ice time mourning my lost couch potato evening, but the arctic air must be laced with some kind of hallucinogen, and soon I was whizzing around pondering this singular wonder of winter: the good, old-fashioned, natural, outdoor hockey rink. A few thousand gallons of plain, ordinary water, spread out in a relatively flat, orderly fashion, and frozen layer by layer. Few things give the neighbourhood so much exercise, pleasure, and excitement at such a reasonable cost.

Then I decided to practice my crosscuts, and you would really have thought the air was laced . . . me doing crosscuts is like a drunk giraffe on rollerblades. Then I thought I'd practice my backward skating (which is like a stoned duck waddling backwards), and then it was time for the game. That fresh, freezing, arctic air may be hallucinogenic, but it also burns when you gulp it in huge lungfuls while vainly chasing a 14 year old gazelle hurtling unopposed toward your net. I switched to puppy-guarding our zone under the pretext of being the goalie. Not a bad gig, except the arctic air finds its way to your toes pretty quickly, and your frozen shins become puck magnets.

This will be my free-time life for the next three months. Shoot me now.

Actually, I like getting out with the kids and pretending I know how to skate and play hockey, at least once the 90-second couch potato hangover is finished. There is something deeply Canadian about an outdoor rink at night. People have to be slightly lunatic to live here, and outdoor hockey is our place to exercise that lunacy.

It's funny how something can be your friend and your enemy at the same time. Ice is the hockey player's most important friend. Give a kid a pair of skates, a stick, a puck, and a patch of ice, and he will entertain him or herself without complaint for hours. Firefighters have often been the icemakers here because of our access to trucks and water. But ice is also the firefighter's enemy. From the moment the truck leaves the hall, the cold works against us. If we let our guard down it will freeze pumps and hose and nozzles. And have you ever tried to hang on to a 100 psi nozzle with a layer of fire stream run-off frozen under your feet? Talk about a giraffe on rollerblades. More than one fire response has been sabotaged by Jack Frost.

Speaking of firefighters, if you want to see a real firefighter card artist's handiwork, go to this site.

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