The Love Affair That Is A Rink

There is something wonderful about building a rink.  It’s one of those must-do things in life if you love winter and your kids.  I’ve built (or helped build) many and have come to the conclusion that there is a dual zen for the rink builder in this life – the passion and emotion that bubbles forth when one begins an icy new affair in the late fall of each year, and the ongoing love affair with it once it is built.

For my rinks, one of two approaches was used in the rink courtship stage.  First, there was the brute force method where getting started meant tramping down every inch of snow in the yard with my boots, wetting it as I moved with a hose.  This required a heavy dose of patience (it took me eight straight hours to do this one year for a fairly modest sized backyard rink) and warm clothing but when this first step was completed, I usually had a base ice-pad that was skate-able enough for the wee ones (and me) to get going on.  You really had to love this girl to stay with this approach year after year.

After I took to readin’, I saw the wisdom in the high tech approach of building a perimeter out of lumber, lining it with plastic, turning the hose on then heading inside and gazing out the window, sometimes with a drink in hand, while the liner filled up.  When it was all full, I would turn off the hose off and wait for winter to transform our giant, shallow, backyard pool into a gleaming surface that enthralled our kids and others in the neighbourhood for as long as the weather held.

I remember using this approach for the first time on Christmas eve at least ten years ago.  I think I needed a re-fill or two of my drink because it took a long time to fill up the liner with water.  However, this approach was much warmer than the brute force method and it didn’t require me to leave my boots on an indoor grate for three days to dry out afterwards.  It was still love but if the weather didn’t cooperate, you didn’t have quite as much invested in this relationship as with the brute force method and could find solace in the fact that there were plenty of other rinks in the yard in future seasons.

Alas, like all loves in this life though, there is the honeymoon period and then everything that comes after.   A rink is no exception.  For those of you scoffing at this as you read, I submit you have never built a rink.  Build one and maintain it for a winter, before you write me off as more than a little offside.

Yes, with the rink-building honeymoon over, the rink builder settles into the pattern of taking care of his love for remainder of its winter days.   This is not to suggest the magic goes out of this love once the rink is built.  On the contrary, once you have ice that is skated on regularly, the magic of flooding it on a cold winter night is itself a labour of love.  It might be the early days when it’s only been skated on a few times and the bumps are still being worn down.  It might be late in the season after a hundred games have been played, a thousand pucks shot or untold numbers of pirouettes have been performed flawlessly.   Regardless, there is nothing more serene than being outside late at night, winter cold all around you, and a hose in your hand coursing water over the tired ice.   The water splays out as it hits the ice and seeps as far and wide as it can before the cold defeats it and turns it into a thin, clear, solid surface.

If you’re lucky, the moon will be out with all its star buddies and the sky will be the dark cold blue / black that only happens in the dead of winter.  When you’ve covered the entire surface, it’s always a treat to stand back and listen to it freeze.  You can actually hear it.  A snap, a crackle, (a pop?) and lots of quiet in between.  The light of the moon is wonderful to see on the dark surface.  It’s a treat to bend down on one’s knees to view across the ice sheet from up close.   It really is.  Once back inside, a good rink maker doesn’t turn his back on his rink for like any love, she’s a beautiful a thing to behold from every distance, every angle.  With the lights off, the beauty of the flat black ice surface is really a cool thing to behold.

Now, there is much I didn’t’ cover here – many of the subtleties that I didn’t get into for as you know, love is a many-splendoured thing.  There is the painting of blue lines and red lines if you’re so inclined.  Or perhaps a goalies crease.  There is the entire ritual around the proper way to shovel and clean a rink as well as how to properly build the snow banks around it as winter grows up.  I’ll write about those another day.

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