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first person

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Illustration by April Dela Noche Milne

Seeing as it’s nearly February, it’s clearly time for a tale of love in the time of COVID-19, Canadian style. Let me set the scene: 2021 late January. It is a dark and frigidly cold night when I discover: I am in love with my rink, obsessed actually. Yearly, I had sworn never to fall prey to the outdoor rink routine, but that night, I was jolted into reality.

While staring out the patio door at my ice, after having come inside from flooding the rink in -15 C, I mused, “Perhaps, I should go check on the ice?”

My dreamy contemplations were interrupted by my teenage son. “Mom, whenever I look outside, you are literally out there for hours, just walking around, squatting down, staring at the ice.”

He was right. And, I had the thigh burn to prove it; too long squatting, contemplating ice particle formation, had me barely able to walk! I was in over my head, but my heart had led me there.

I am not an engineer, nor a careful planner. I am a creative, someone who contemplates the beautiful idea, and then by believing and a bit of MacGyvering makes it happen. I prepare by envisioning, thinking and over-buying to be able to execute multiple different attempts. My husband, who is a physician, an expert planner, superbly organized, and who can follow a recipe with precision, listened to my dream of a backyard ice rink, looked at me, his lovely wife of 20 years, who hates to follow instructions, and wisely said: “You are on your own.”

Briefly, I thought about abandoning my haphazard plan, which wasn’t a plan at all, just a spontaneously acquired dream, but my creative side won out. I could do this; I could see it in my mind’s eye, and it would be amazing.

Banging my coffee down, I declared, “Since there’s a pandemic going on, since hockey and ringette have been banished and I am home with the kids, I will call the shots and build the dream!” My husband smiled, saying, “I think you just want to escape the Grade 3 Zoom, but good luck!”

Cold-water swimming helps me make peace with my body

Shovelling snow is my new meditation

Who needs luck when you have Google? A quick search informed me the easiest option was a bag rink. I could buy a large clear plastic bag with a hole for a hose in one end, lay the bag flat, turn on the hose and watch the bag fill up. It was only 10x20 feet but it was the perfect size for a shooting pad. I decided I also needed a tarp rink on the other side of the yard, in case my bag rink burst. I clicked and purchased the bag rink plus a selection of tarps. Come hell or high water, this was going to work.

Once I had my gear, I stomped out the approximate rink spaces in the snow, dragged our hose outside and hooked it up. After consulting my dad, when the tap wouldn’t turn on, I poured hot water over it and I was in business. I had an epiphany! I could make this rink look really cool. I grabbed my smallest tarp emblazoned with a Canadian flag and slid it under the filling bag. Now my ice would have a decal on it, like a real rink.

When the bag rink was full, I took a white, all-purpose tarp, and laid it on the flattest area in my yard. I still had lots of room and delusions of grandeur, so I took a blue camping tarp and laid it horizontally across the graded slope of my yard, creating an extra bulge in the rink’s shape, making it unconventional, but bigger. My hope was that the weight of the water would seal the interior tarps’ overlapping edges. I shovelled a perimeter snow berm and pulled the exterior edges up against it, like a muffin paper. Filling the white tarp went smoothly albeit agonizingly slowly because of the yard’s significant grade. Hours went by before the water crept over the seam and the blue tarp started to fill. I walked around and around, watching and adjusting. Eventually, I noticed that though I had water in little valleys spread over the blue tarp it wasn’t getting any higher, nor was it levelling. Instead, the snow outside the tarp was turning to slush, meaning leakage.

I was devastated. I called my dad. He told me to turn off the hose, roll it up, bring it inside and try flooding again the next morning on top of whatever ice layer remained.

I was up with the sun, checking on my rinks. The shooting pad rink was nearly solid but my unconventional “muffin” tarp rink needed action! The blue tarp part had a thin skin of ice over empty air pockets, but the ice on the white tarp part was smooth, promising. I hauled out the hose, adding more water to the blue tarp; it cracked, hissed and leaked. I threw shovels of snow on top and tapped it down into a slushy mess. I walked around and around. I stared. I thought. I willed it to freeze and not seep out. Hours passed. Eventually, the shooting pad ice was ready, I cut the bag, peeling it back. The ice was perfect. The Canada flag shone through the ice confirming, in my heart, that I was a true Canadian who had mastered the art of the outdoor rink.

I walked over to my blue and white tarp rink. It was terribly bumpy but my two daughters didn’t care, they skated on the good half. They were in love. The sound of their blades cutting into the crisp ice transported me from pandemic pessimism to hope; maybe I could fix this. Did I mention I’m a perfectionist?

My two sons came out in the dark and skated, shot, hooted and hollered. Listening to them, my heart swelled. I decided I wouldn’t be defeated by the blue tarp. I would make it work. I took out my ice chopper, hammering the largest bumps. It was going down to -19 C so I flooded the rink a full two inches. I watched entranced as the frozen slush base finally succeeded in stopping the seepage; everything was equally covered. I was delighted. I went to sleep full of anticipation for the next day, a rare gift.

The next morning, peering down at my rinks from my bedroom, I gasped! The ice on both rinks looked exquisite. The Canada flag shone in its glory from underneath the shooting pad and the blue and white tarp rink had finally merged. Staring down at it, I realized my double tarps had created a rink shaped like a heart. A gift from a mom, who had the dream of a perfect rink and who MaGyvered it into happening. Oh Canada, play on!

Marya Moore lives in Ottawa.

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