I recalled on Saturday morning that, contrary to the post below, I had sort of resolved to drag out my old hockey skates and get out on the ice this winter. (I had actually communicated the resolution to my fitness guru, SW, in a moment of weakness — making it all that more difficult to ignore.)
A bit of history: After years spent bouncing basketballs on Saturday mornings at my local grade school gym and perfecting my jump shot in my uncle’s driveway, the National Hockey League came to Minnesota in 1967, and my best friend (who sucked at hoops) and I transformed ourselves into puckheads. Every night after supper, we’d slap on our breezers and pads, grab our sticks and walk down to Hillview Park, where we would lace up our skates and chase the puck around the rink along with whomever happened to show up that night. Sometimes, we’d have nine or 10 or more players — of all ages — crowding the ice on either team, creating a divine sort of anarchy — avoiding the little kids, crashing into our peers, and always keeping the puck on the ice (nobody was wearing a cup, you know).
The warming house was always populated by our neighborhood’s more adventurous girls, Marlboro-puffing vixens who inhabited a world far more mysterious than any hockey fantasies my sports-obsessed friends and I could conjure.
So, it all made for some magical winter nights.
I played a couple years of park and rec hockey in high school and one particularly embarrassing intramural league game at Williams Arena at the U of M (I’d neglected to sharpen my skates and spent my dwindling shifts sliding around as if I were wearing boots while deflecting pucks into our own net) before giving up the game in my mid-20s. I still loved to skate, though, and My Lovely Wife still speaks of the time in the late 1970s when, at a skating party with a gaggle of local bon vivants, I cast wild aspersions on my carefully constructed literary-revolutionary identity by casually carving figure eights on Lake of the Isles — while skating backwards.
But, I’ve been out on the ice only a handful times in the past 10 years, so when I sat down late on Saturday afternoon on the wooden steps leading to the the Lake Nokomis rink to lace up my skates (the warming house, of course, was closed — budget cuts), I really didn’t know what to expect. And that’s a good thing, because if I’d had any idea how awkward it was going to feel, I probably would’ve stayed home.
Thankfully, there was no one else on the ice to watch me totter about, propelling myself speculatively — prospecting for some sense of balance. Should I lean forward? Crouch more? And what do I do with my arms? For a while, I felt like I shared the impending tragedy of a toddler’s first steps.
But, after a couple of turns around the rink’s big oval, I was starting to get the hang of it again: leaning and pushing, leaning and pushing, arms swinging , body swaying, and blades skimming along — frictionless against the frozen track. I was working up a bit of a lather after a few minutes; a healthy breeze greeted me after each half-circuit, forcing me to push through the oval’s home stretch. It felt good, though. Despite the rough ice, the wind and a rapidly forming blister on the outside of my right ankle, this was actually kind of enjoyable.
And this seemed to be working muscle groups that I didn’t even know existed. I could feel it in my lower back, my glutes, quads and knees — especially my knees (but not in the way I felt it when running). Maybe even a little bit in my core, actually. This can’t be a bad thing, I thought, as I marveled at the pink sunset on the west side of the lake. Then, coming out of the second turn, wind at my back, I was suddenly greeted by a glorious full moon hovering just above the eastern horizon. MLW had mentioned the arrival of the “perigee of the Moon” (she knows about this stuff), the closest encounter with the moon in 2009, which presents a fuller, bigger moon than you’re going to see the rest of the year.
I’m not accustomed to these sorts of magical moments. I could’ve just as easily caught a blade in a rut and tumbled face-first onto the merciless ice. Or turned an ankle. Or skidded over a bump and torn open my kneecap. (At my age, you think about these things.). But, no — here I was, gliding around this oval in nearly perfect silence beneath this glorious full moon feeling like I was, oh, maybe 45 again.
So, I coasted over to where I’d left my boots and, with more effort than you’d expect from a 45-year-old, sat down and pulled off my skates, checked my new blister and slid on my boots, welcoming their offering of stability.
I was recalling those long-ago boot-clad treks home from Hillview Park, skates hanging from my hockey stick, when I came upon a park police car that was just exiting the parking lot. No ticket on the Crapmobile. Hmmm. The half-buck I had reluctantly surrendered for an hour-long slot on the blacktop turned out to be a smart move. Magic.