Monday, December 5, 2011


We've got our first long blast of cold weather. It's been discouraging to see open water still on the small lakes around here. When it's cold, I want ice! Time to skate!

On Friday night, we went to some friends' house for a festive dinner party. When we were leaving, our headlights shone on what looked like a major construction site in the backyard next door. "Wonder what's going on there," I said. Steve responded, "They're making an ice rink!"

This is a great Minnesota tradition, though I hadn't seen it up close before. Steve has made them before; all it takes is plastic sheeting, 2x8s and some concrete blocks to hold the plastic in place. Then you flood the ice with a hose.

There are, of course, some very nice amateur videos on YouTube that show you how to make yoru own rink in your backyard. Some are quite elaborate. Most are made by teenage hockey players, and as such, the music over the videos is very loud and there's much profanity used in describing the ice rink construction and final product. I did find this lovely family rink video.

There's also an excellent documentary about amateur ice rinks in Minnesota, Canada and other cold places, called Pond Hockey: There are advantages to frozen ground!

I grew up ice skating three blocks from our house on Farragut Street in Park Forest, Illinois. The grade school (Illinois School, on Illinois Street, not to be confused with Indiana School on Indiana Street about 12 blocks away) had an outdoor rink every winter. You never knew when it would be flooded (it seemed done by elves, but I do believe some firemen came out and opened a fire hydrant onto it once the weather was going to stay below freezing). The rink was actually carved into the ground, with sloped sides and a mound down the middle that separated the figure skating side from the hockey side. This was, in my day and my neighborhood, a gender line: boys on the hockey side and girls on the figure skating side.

I also took figure skating lessons at a large indoor rink in Park Forest South. I took a bus to get there, and I always was a little nervous when I came out into the dark (it was probably 4:30 or 5 p.m.) and had to find my bus. I had no idea where I was but it felt like a long way from home. I truly valued this kind of independent experience even then. I became a good skater: figure eights and backward and some spins, but nothing elaborate. As good a skater as I was, I was always impressed by boys and how they could skate. Hockey demanded a kind of athleticism I would never have, a confidence and ease on skates. It was like they were on solid ground and I was doing the same thing on a balance beam, precarious.

The last time I was at that grade school rink, the older brother of one of my childhood friends was there with his toddler daughter. He was clearly a hockey player. She was on little double-bladed skates and completely enveloped in a snowsuit. This man, who was in his 20s, skated around and around the rink, holding onto her all the way. She must have felt like she was flying. All you could hear was her laughter, pealing out of that snowsuit. When they came my way, I could see her face-- one gigantic smile. It was one of the purest portraits of joy I've ever seen.

So every day I watch our pond, waiting for the day it will ice over, then freeze completely. It's nice if it happens before there is snow, but if there is snow, Tim will get out there and blow it clear. In the old days, Paul used to string up lights around the pond, but now we skate in dark or moonlight.

It's one reason we live in Minnesota.


Alison said...

I never knew you had a proper rink over at Illinois. They flooded the tennis court at Indiana for us to skate on. I remember going to the rink in PFS for lessons, too.

Sarah Reynolds said...

For some reason, I didn't skate a lot at the tennis courts by Indiana School. Maybe because I was the youngest of 4 and we didn't have any skates left over (LOL).

In college, I made a point of taking a 1 credit Ice Skating class. I loved it even though it was difficult for a 20 yr old to master.

Susan Sink said...

Alison, you should have come to Illinois School. It was small, but it was serious! Sarah, it is amazing how treacherous ice skating seems to me now. I mean, I know how to skate, so I don't worry, but without that low center of gravity and snowsuit padding that kids have, I'm not sure I'd try to learn now! That's how I felt about roller blading, anyway.