I’ve always loved winter even before my late teens when I started to ski. This probably goes back to when I was about nine or ten years old, when I was finally allowed to go off with my three brothers to play hockey on the shallow ponds near our house. They were a perfect size for a pick-up game and were staked out by a different gang of kids as their hockey pond. As soon as the days and nights got cold enough, we would begin to venture down to our pond to check on the ice, watching its progress as it moved from the shore, out into the middle until one day, the pond was frozen solid. When the ice was finally thick enough to hold the weight of ten to twelve schoolboys, we’d all venture out and look down into the no longer murky waters of the pond. This was always kind of cool because the new ice was completely transparent and, as the ponds weren’t too deep, you could see all the fish swimming below the surface as well the latest illegal dump deposits from the past year - a refrigerator here, lots of tires, and other junk. How this stuff got there we never could figure out, but there it was, year after year.
Having staked out territorial hockey rights, we now had to build and maintain the “rink.” Until the first snowfall, this meant old boards, tree limbs and whatever else was around laid down on the edges to form a kind, of sort of rectangle. This was so you wouldn’t be spending a lot of time trying to find the puck in the pond’s edge or climbing up on the rocks on your knees to retrieve it. Finally, when the first good snowfall came you could build and maintain a proper rink with the snow banks as your ‘boards’ and slush to build the edges. This meant you shoveled the ice after each snow fall and filled in the large cracks with snow and water at the end of each day so the ice would be ready for the next. Funny, we would moan and groan about having to shovel the driveway and the walks at home and yet spend hours happily shoveling the ice off the “rink.” Of course, you couldn’t shovel the driveway with your skates on like you could at the pond, holding the shovel side- ways at an angle so the snow got pushed to the side as you lathed your legs back and forth in the classic skater’s waltz form, although we never thought of it that way – if we had bother to talk style at all we probably would have said we were imitating “slow Don Awrey” or a doing a lazy “Chief.”
Once the rink was ready, we were there everyday – home from school, skates hung on the blade of our hockey sticks, slung over the shoulder, we would hurry down to the pond and lace up those nasty leather skates (no insulation, too tight to wear any but one pair of socks, and guaranteed to freeze your feet in two minutes) and spend hours playing until it was too dark to see, skating back and forth in the unending wind-sprints of a hockey game. If the family dog had trailed us to the pond, he would spend the whole afternoon running up and down alongside the action, barking his fool head off, lunging in to grab the puck when there was a lull in play or an errant pass sent it to close to him. This would lead to a wild melee as 10-12 hockey players would chase the him all over the place, trying to snag him and get the drool-covered puck out of his mouth.
When we played, we were all the big, bad Bruins playing against the hated “Habs.” If a kid scored a goal swooping from right to left in front of the goal, he had to launch himself into the air and soar with arms outstretched like Bobby Orr in game four against the Blues. We all had our favorite player and did passable imitations of them (I did a “mean” Ken Hodge because I was always ducking fights and let my brothers – aka “my teammates” fight for me). If the snow banks were high enough, you could have a blast checking each other into the “north pole.” When we finally had to quit, oh boy, then, we would pay the price for those wretched skates. As we took them off and the blood flow returned, our feet would begin to ache and throb with the cold so that we walked/ran home with a kind of Neanderthal gait. But we knew the worst was yet to come because once you got home and your poor feet began to thaw out then the maddening pins and needles would start and your feet would itch, oh, how they would itch. Sometimes it was so bad that I was reduced to tears but cried quietly so my brothers did- n’t see and call me “Sally.” And yet, as miserable as I was at that moment, I’d rub my wind burned face with my chapped knuckles, and think, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll be Derek Sanderson and I’ll fire one past that Terry Sawchuck and we’ll be victorious again ...” and I was safe and warm and loved and in my house and all was right with the world.
Even though I may no longer skate or play pond hockey, I still love the season of winter but for different reasons. You see, the marvelous cycles of God’s creation still remind me that I am safe and loved and in his hands.