Maybe I’m motivated to write about winter because I’m sweating through the hottest, most humid summer I can ever remember, and I haven’t had a chance to swim once. Not once.
And I had another reminder of winter when the New York Times, in an article about climate change, pointed to a scientific study about backyard ice rinks. Who knew backyard ice rinks were the stuff of science?
The research study looked at outdoor ice rinks in the original six National Hockey League cities: Toronto, Montreal, Boston, New York, Detroit, and Chicago. The conclusion was that there are fewer days of viable skating conditions than there used to be. The melting has been going on for years.
That was disheartening to me, but would have been no surprise if I’d given it any thought, which I hadn’t until now. When I think of climate change, I think of rising seas, powerful storms, severe drought, forced migration, hardship, and political denial. Not of backyard ice rinks.
I had a rink in my yard when I was a kid. Crude as can be: stomped down snow watered with a hose. I learned to skate and discovered my love for hockey on a rink that wasn’t much bigger than the desk I’m using right now and was as bumpy as a potholed street (another winter phenomena).
When my kids were young I built a rink in my yard for them. What an engineering nightmare. My yard wasn’t level enough: I had a deep end where the frame bulged from the force of the ice and water, and a shallow end where the grass showed through. One year the eight of the water broke through the 2×10 frame with the sound of thunder and my rink flooded the street. Then it froze. Other years the leaks were slow and insidious, from a tiny nick in the plastic liner.
Still, we had a lot of fun. My kids learned to skate. Julia gained confidence; Owen became a hockey player, much better than his Dad ever was.
Although the days of my building rickety backyard rinks are past, the last few winters have been terrible for those who’ve performed this labor of love. You need long stretches of below freezing temperatures to get the ice set up. That never happened. The pond rink in our town park didn’t even open last winter. I expect that to be the case more and more in the coming years.
Let’s face it: the world is getting warmer. Backyard ice rinks are going away. Soon there will be no more pickup hockey games. The term “pond hockey” will become antiquated.
On the bright side, it’s July 30 and the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs start in two days—August 1. Yup. After a pandemic-shortened season, the league has wrapped up the contending teams into two bubbles, one in Toronto and the other in Edmonton. All playoff games will take place there. No fans.
Owen and I will be watching, but I’ll be a little wistful. My team, the Buffalo Sabres, just missed the playoffs. And hockey—it’s much better as a cold-weather sport.