At the risk of not sounding Canadian enough, before recently, I had never skated outdoors. Perhaps living in China for most of my formative years contributed. I’d only ever played hockey in arenas and shopping malls.
A few weeks ago, on a Saturday morning, several friends and I met for breakfast. After fueling our bellies with pancakes, eggs, and coffee, we set out with our shovels to clear the snow off of the adjacent lake.
That was a heavy, difficult job. We kept at it, though. Quitting now, so close to realizing the experience, was not a legitimate option.
Finally, we had a surface. The sun flashed off of the freshly exposed ice. We put on our skates, collected our gloves and sticks, and stepped onto our new rink. It was not completely flat and featureless, but bumpy and ridged. The sensation was unlike anything I’ve experienced.
I had to adjust my skating. And I began to notice other things, too. The air was cold, but I wasn’t. The game was faster, somehow. I was able to skate harder, and for longer without tiring. Everybody was smiling.
We spent the entire afternoon on the ice, shooting, scoring, and laughing. When we were done, we returned to the house for hot chocolate.
It had been a good day.
I’d grown up hearing about the mythic attributes of “pond hockey”, that great ideal of freedom and Northern identity, the alleged soul of the game. Having no frame of reference, I could never appreciate how it was different from the indoor kind. I didn’t know what made it special.
Now, I think I understand.
That’s because the feeling can’t be replicated, but I was fortunate enough to be able to do it.