Friday, January 18, 2008

I wish I had a river

For the love of hockey and feminists, this Canadian gal finally taught herself to skate in her mid-30s. It's not that I had never tried before. When I was a child, there were always skates kicking around the house. "Girl skates" we called them: always white with that awkward claw of toe-picks that would force you to hobble-glide around the ice if by chance clutz and not lutz was your athletic destiny. It was clear from early on in my childhood that I was nothing more than a Katarina Twit. You'll still see women of my generation working their way around the rink using that tell-tale prissy hobble. I often wonder if those same women are soul sisters: bullied from the rec room by their brothers for asking too many stupid questions when the Leafs played the Habs; coerced into an interest in figure skating; and living for the winter Olympics just to watch the speed skaters fly.

Any skates I wore as a child were ill-fitting. As kid number 5, little was new, little was mine. When I did skate, it was never at a rink. No, "us kids" would trudge across two farmer's fields, dragging shovels, boards and skates to get back to the crick. My prairie husband might call the crick a slough. I don't know what your regional flourish is for a small pool of standing water in the middle of farm country.

We'd arrive at the crick tired from the knee-deep hike and then spend a half an hour clearing the ice before tightening our skates with knuckleless frozen fingers. Five minutes later, after falling repeatedly on the ice's wind-rippled surface, we'd head home for hot chocolate. I'd strip off my wet clothes at the register vent inside the back door and then sit in my underwear, nursing the warm choclately goodness while watching my thighs turn from pink to frost-patchy white to red before settling into their pale mottledness. The whole affair was a make-work production designed to make us patriots if perhaps not skaters.

In my 30s, I joined the Library School women's Co-Rec hockey team. The ability to skate was not a prerequisite in this league. Punny team names were, however, de rigeur. Sadly I cannot take credit for christening The Infomaniacs but my second team a year later, The Booby Orrs, that was all my doing. We were a mixed collection of academic feminists who actually did manage to bring a high degree of collegiality to team sports. And, when it came to skating, being on a hockey team changed everything. I had padding and a stick for stability. I had a purpose with rules to define it. At long last, I wanted to learn. I wanted to be a Canadian Amazon of the Ice. I began showing up for noon hour public skates. I started jumping the boards of my local outdoor community league at midnight. I sought advice: watch the bum of the skater in front of you to establish a rhythm; don't tighten your laces across the foot to prevent cramping but strap your ankles in with all your might, push your heels out from the bum on down to slow down quickly... And, dear readers, at long last I bought hockey skates--still used, but hockey skates nonetheless.

Little by little, I learned that wonderful rocking motion that feels a bit like oblivious escape. I lived in Edmonton at the time where I could skate on the lake at Hawrelak Park or go a few rounds on the Victoria Oval, places where you could build up speed and begin to lose yourself in thought. Outdoor skating offered clean fresh air and endorphins. Other people dream their wanderlust to being by flying to foreign lands. Not me. All I need is a clear, bright -10 day and a patch of unending ice.

Ah but then I moved out here to the Maritimes--where women's hockey is actually played by real Acadian Amazons NOT aging, pudgy feminists with a penchant for living life for its metaphorical resonance. My teammates had little time or sympathy for my spazzy stops and my inability to skate backwards. I spent one season miserable on a flatly named team that was filled with hyper-competitive asshats. I drove to games an hour out of town at 6 am on -20 January days. I practiced the drills. I ate the pizza and drank the beer. I hated every single minute of it.

Now, a few years after quitting, I guess I am a true Canadian skater at long last: you know, the kind of person who can only get access to ice time at public, noon-hour skates. As such, two lunch hours every week, I go around in tight circles, breathing Zamboni fumes and making friendly chit-chat. In this teetering obstacle course of fitness, I am surrounded by the Old Timer hot dogs who stop short of body checking in their efforts to claim ice real estate and by the teetering international students looking for the le vrai chose Canadienne--all the while surrounding the Intolerable Cranstons, figure skaters doomed to spin and leap at centre ice. Theirs is a circle of icy hell more circumscribed than mine. Yet, that rocking hockey motion is sufficiently seductive to keep me coming back week after week, year after year.

Each winter day, I dream of of lakes, rivers and canals, expanses of ice that promise a wintery escape.


slouching mom said...

All that writing goodness (your descriptions here are incredibly evocative), and now Joni's in my head, too!

I'd skate with you anytime. Gymnastics, my all-time love, was always (and is still) followed closely by skating.

Omaha Mama said...

Skating two days a week. That sounds wonderful to me. Exotic. And foreign.

Our ice here is covered with snow or fishing holes. And no one is skating on it.

cinnamon gurl said...

I always wanted to play hockey until I learned that you can't body check on women's leagues. The inequality!

I can't decide what I like more about this post: "miserable on a flatly named team" or the "Interolable Cranstons." Not that I like thinking of you as miserable but you living without a good pun? Miserable!

The only time I've skated in the last ten years was on the Rideau Canal back at 2004 Winterlude I think. You should go to Winterlude this year! I'll go if you go!

Beck said...

A friend of mine is trying to talk me into going skating with her and The Baby during weekday free skate.
Maybe I will, rabbit. Maybe I will.
(and it's a crick, of course.)

Julie Pippert said...

Congratulations, you true Canadian and skater!

I think we'd call that a pond, from your description (which was wonderful).

Anonymous said...

Where my people hail from, a crick is a creek, and a crick is what I'd surely have if I tried my luck on the ice.

I learned to skate on Holbrook pond, a pond I don't recall ever visiting when it was liquid. My dad would shovel it clear for us and the six of us would have a private rink. The part I remember most clearly was stopping to stomp through the woods and find a fallen log I could use as a "buttress" because I had to go, but then I never could because my dad was there.

In my hometown, every pond became a town skating area in the winter. If the pond was too deep to be safe, there was always an adjacent meadow they'd flood. These places are all still there, but they're never used any more. Of course, we don't have an NHL hockey team any more either.

Bon said...

the Booby Orrs. heh. so many fine puns in're gifted, girl.

yeh, women's hockey is way beyond me out here...i actually never learned to skate without those damn picks so the chicks' hockey teams scare the shit out of me. perhaps you and i could start a pan-Maritime league. you will have to name it, though. Klutzes who'd rather be drinking would be my only suggestion. ;)

i have had that song in my head since the first snow of the season...i am glad to have it brought to the forefront again this morning. but this post REALLY reminded me of Jane Siberry's hockey you know it? if not, go find it. you'll love it.

DaniGirl said...

For the last two years, I have asked for pickless ice skates for Christmas, to replace the old-school figure skates I've had for so many years I've long since lost count. So far, no skates, but my family may have considered it imprudent this year given my current, erm, condition.

I love love love skating on the Rideau Canal (and would LOVE to skate it with you and Sin some day!) because of the fresh air, the crowds, the history, the Beavertails -- but I never did learn how to stop, and there are no boards with which to slow oneself down, so I can only stop by allowing myself to lose momentum and coast gracefully to a halt. Not always the best plan when you are sharing the ice with 10000 other people, many of whom are even worse skaters than me!

Susanne said...

I have been dreaming about skating again for ages. I virtually stopped at the age of fourteen because we moved away from the place where you could go skating on a tiny lake.

I still have those girl skates, two sizes to big to grow into, and now they're rusty.

Thanks for reminding me.

painted maypole said...

i waws never much for the ice skating (although we did use to make our own "crick" in the backyard with a hose) but I LOVED rollerskating.

I am glad you are doing it for YOUR enjoyment.

flutter said...

ooooh this is lovely, I can't skate for shit but I would love to watch you sometime.

Victoria said...

I completely suck at skating. But I love it anyway. Your descriptions are beautiful. And twice a week? Me = jealous.

bubandpie said...

I'm the kind of skater who invariably attracts the attention of well-meaning strangers who come up and earnestly tell me to bend my knees. Sorry. It can't be done.

I did play hockey once in my undergraduate days, though, and I was amazed at how much easier it was - not only because of the stick but also just having something to think about aside from the constant fear of falling and vague worry about how exactly I would stop if I ever did manage to create some momentum. When the time comes, Pie will definitely be signed up for girls' hockey and not figure skating.

Mimi said...

I hereby out myself as a proud former Booby Orr! I felt so talented, owing to I could skate backwards and all. Unfortunately, after two dislocated shoulder I had to bow out.

But, my god, it was fun, eh? Smelly, but fun.

And Hawrelak park is a place that holds a lot of fine, skating around the island and playing crack the whip memories for me. And of freezing my baguettes off. Still, fine memories.

And a wonderful post.

Mad Hatter said...

B&P: That's it! Hockey takes your mind off skating. It frees you to actually skate. Unless, of course, you're playing Oromocto--a team that took the no body checking rule rather lightly.

Magpie said...

Breathless. I skated a lot as a kid - figure skates, though. Skating lessons (figure 8s and tiny jumps) and weekly family trips to a nearby outdoor rink in the winter.

I would dearly like to take it up again. Maybe I will.

Thanks for a lovely and even provocative post!

nomotherearth said...

Wow, I'm impressed that you can play hockey! I can't skate backwards to save my life.

Mad Hatter said...

No-Mo: That's a real generous way of putting it. I wouldn't per se claim to play anything resembling the real game or anything but I can somewhat slowly clear the zone when I notice I'm offside.

Anonymous said...

And fantastic exercise to boot!

(Oh, and thanks for the tips on how to fasten the skates. I clearly have been doing it all wrong, and my feet always hurt afterwards.)

ewe are here said...

I think we would get on... even though I'm not Canadian and all. I figure skated as a child (no grace, just loved being on the ice). And as an adult, I used to skate at my lunch hour in Hawaii whenever I could, usually just me and one or two other people on a big lovely expanse of ice.

As for the Booby Orrs? Brilliant.

Mad Hatter said...

Oh and bon: Do I know it?
"This stick was signed by Jean Beliveau
So don't you fuckin' tell me where to fuckin' go"

One of the best lyrics of all time.

Kyla said...

Oh, I love to ice skate. I've been doing it since I was two. We used to live in Alaska, you know. Now I'm lucky if I go once a year. I am so jealous you skate twice a week. Fun.

kittenpie said...

"klutz not lutz" - love it! Good one.

And my regional patois includes "the rink at the park," "Ryerson," or "City Hall" among its skating locales.

jen said...

good lord, in just a few days, i've missed you. this is fab writing, Mad.

Anonymous said...

Give me a lake at night anytime. The groaning crack of the ice as you stroke by, the crusty bumps of uneven ice, the black puck sliding its way into the oblivion of the inky surround. Bliss.

Anonymous said...

I use to love skating at the UofA in the summer. Walking around in plus 20 with your skates and stick slung over your shoulder.

Last time I was at the rink a five year old boy told me I was a fierce skater. NOW that's a compliment.

Bon said...

precisely. i love singing that line. i suspected you would as well.

Virtualsprite said...

I'm laughing because we have a pond in our yard and that was exactly what skating was like for me.

This Wisconsin girl has yet to strap on hockey skates, but someday I might.

kittenpie said...

Mad - just a back-comment.
Watsons go to Birmingham is FANTASTIC! And tear-jerking, but still.
And the Newbery was indeed announced, along with the Caldecott in a somewhat unusual choice.
And me, I rarely read adult stuff, so while it may look admirable, that is the vast bulk of my reading you are seeing there! Gah.

Anonymous said...

Oh how COOL this post is. Our family has been invited to skate on a regular basis by Nina, our seven year old DAUGHTER who is a hockey player now. Her overwhelming interest in playing on a hockey team spurred the entire family to hit the ice more frequently. I know how to skate, but my husband didn't. And now? He takes his skates to work so that he can spend HIS lunches at the outdoor rink outside his office. Funny he isn't the only one. Enjoy!

Wayfarer Scientista said...

I avoid blogging and computers altogether on weekends too - keeps me sane.