“I think we should have the pool truck flood the rink,” I told Peter, my husband, in late December.
“No way!” He looked at me with disbelief.
“Really, you haven’t started on it, and it’s after Christmas.”
In Minnesota, December is late to not have begun flooding your backyard rink. The boards have been set up since early November, when it was so unseasonably warm out that we wondered if it would ever get cold enough to flood.
Minnesota, the state of hockey—boot hockey, broom ball, floor hockey, shinny, and, of course, ice hockey. A place where the temperature regularly dips below zero (not including wind-chill); where people commute to work all year round by bike no matter the snowy conditions; and where children learn to crawl, walk, skate, and then run. It’s no wonder backyard rinks thrive. Ice is Minnesota’s winter crop. We grow rinks. We water them. We tend to them. We light them by night for evening skates and check them in the morning to assess their condition. We watch the temperature and try to predict how a seven-day forecast will affect their skatability, much like farmers watch for rain.
Minnesota, where people look at real estate differently: How big a rink will this yard hold? And if not a large yard, Where can I squeeze a rink in? The state that brought you many of the players for the 1980 Olympic team highlighted in the film Miracle. Yes, the wise Coach Herb Brooks is right: “Great moments, come from great opportunities....” And sometimes that opportunity is taking advantage of the harsh winter climate to make ice.
This is our second year of flooding our backyard, which makes us very green. It started on a whim. We should make a rink. My nephews, now in college, always built a backyard rink at their Saint Paul house a mile away. My brother-in-law, Pat Williams, lovingly slaved over “making ice,” working the hand held ice resurfacer—a.k.a. the hand Zamboni—to paint his ice stroke after stroke.
Last winter, I made the off-handed comment to Pat, “We're thinking of flooding our backyard.” Our lot in the Tangletown neighborhood of St. Paul is prime skating territory: a long, flat rectangle, bordered on both sides by fences, easily holds a 25' x 50' rink. Pat is an attorney by day, backyard rink extraordinaire by night. He told me: “My partner, Mark, is looking to get rid of his rink stuff. I bet he would give it to you if you take it all. His boys are at away at Boston College. He will love you guys.”