My favorite experience with nature came when I was a young hockey player, around thirteen or fourteen years old. Hockey is my favorite sport, and it is played on ice. The majority of the time indoors. I was playing hockey outside in a field behind my house. It was not a homemade rink in the backyard that dad stayed outside creating with the hose in the freezing cold. This rink was just there, created by nature.
It had rained the day before, which was quite odd as it was the middle of an extremely cold winter. I looked outside the morning after the rain and the ground was covered with snow again, not much, but enough to cover the green of the grass. I was looking outside that morning, and something caught my eye. It was pretty far out towards the middle of the field. It was glimmering from the sun.
I had nothing better to do that day, so I put on the layers and layers of clothes needed to sustain being outside for more then ten minutes, and made my way out to the field. The sun was out and not a cloud in the sky, but the sun made no difference in the temperature, as my nose was bright red before I made my way off the steps of the deck. I remember the reflection of the sun reflecting off the snow making it almost impossible to keep my eyes open. The snow was crisp beneath my feet crunching and crackling the same chilling sound as when you take ice cubes out of an ice cube tray. The leafless branches on the trees were like, lifeless statues of ice, standing still even in the chilling breeze.
All that was ahead of me was a desert of snow and that one shimmering “thing.” As I made my way through the collapsing snow beneath my feet, I kept an eye on this one “thing” in the snow. When I got to the spot where I saw the shimmer, I thought I had found something. I was disappointed, for a minute, when there was nothing there but ice.
“Ice? How much ice?” I believe this to be my exact thought process as I dropped to my knees and began clearing away the snow. To my surprise there was ice surrounding me everywhere, underneath the snow. So, I trudged all the way back to the house with a little more pep if my step, told mom, and brought a shovel out to see exactly how much ice was out there. If I had stayed on my hands and knees I would have been out there uncovering ice until it started to thaw in the spring. There was so much of it out there. It was no longer a desert of snow, but a desert of ice. I remember seeing the first glimmering piece of it, it was clear as glass. I could see the rock hard ground about 5-6cm below the ice.
It was not a perfect rink. There were dark red spots in the ice where the ploughed red dirt came popping up through. There might as well have been mountains in the way when skating over those red spots, they stopped you dead in your tracks. Many bruised knees came from those tiny pieces of red earth. Once I got the rink cleared, I ran home and grabbed my net, then grabbed my skates helmet and gloves and made the hike back out to the rink.
The atmosphere of an NHL game is electric when you are inside a stadium full of people watching you play. It was just as electric being out in the middle of a snowy desert when the only audience you have are the stars above you. I played till the sun went down, and beyond. With the moon being the only light source I had, the puck would constantly play hide and seek with me, when I would miss the net. It was like the snow was the puck’s cave, closing the entrance and leaving not a trace. So, I had to keep a close eye in fear of losing the puck and my game would come to an end.
As the day faded into night, the temperature dropped, I had to continuously skate around to keep warm. I remember the feeling of the wind hitting me in the face. It felt like I had instant blisters on my face from the frost bite, it wasn’t enough to make me even think about calling it quits. If I stood around for too long I was taking the risk of having the brisk breeze seeping into my clothes and reaching the sweat underneath all my layers and giving myself the chills.
I neglected to think about the layers I had on my hands, though. I had a couple layers of thin gloves, plus the hockey gloves on. Of course, I wanted to be able to fit my hands into my hockey gloves. You have to wear the gear if you’re going to play the game. After the many, many hours out in the extreme cold, the cold air began to take a toll on my hands, and my hands gave in before I would have liked. That was my first experience with extreme numbness in my hands. (I still remember the pain of having the warm water run over them, until mom told me its better to run the cold water over them first.)I believe it was nature’s way of saying, there’s always tomorrow, the ice is not going anywhere.
I began to walk back to the house. I left the net out there, for some kind of reassurance that it will not let the ice go anywhere and let the ice know that I will be coming back out tomorrow. On the way to the house, I stopped to look back. The moon’s light seemed to shine right on the ice. Everything surrounding the ice, although only snow, seemed a lot darker then the ice surface. It was as if the moon was in the right place, or maybe it was the ice that knew where to be, but the moon was shining at the right angle and acted as nature’s spot light for my personal rink.
My rink only lasted for a couple more days after that day. I had worn it down and the red dirt began to pop up out of the ice and eventually made it un-skate able. I did think about using a hose to build it back up again, but I couldn’t find a hose that reached over 500 meters out from the house. I even debated carrying buckets of water out there, but my parents thought it was better to let nature run its course. So, that’s what I did. I waited and waited throughout the spring, summer and fall. I have never experienced another rink out in that field.
Many winters have gone by and I still catch myself looking out the windows after a rainy day in the winter, hoping to see that glimmer in the snow. I have never played in a stadium full of people chanting my name or even cheering for my team like NHL players have every night. But, if you go to those players and ask them what one of their favorite memories they have of their childhoods growing up playing hockey is, I can almost guarantee, the majority of them will say playing on the outdoor rinks in their backyards.
I don’t know how many times I won the Stanley Cup out on the ice those few days. But, I could hear the faint roars of crowds in my ears every time, or maybe it was just the wind blowing in my ears, through my toque. Either way that was my best experience in nature I have ever had, and I will never forget.
Photos by Flo Bow and Chris Hill