My Great White Whale

... if only the weather would make up its mind



Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

What a mess. With no snow to hide the black duct tape holding up the painter's plastic, the two-by-eight wood planks that lined our backyard skate rink looked like a child's attempt at a wading pool.

A sad attempt.

When I say "our rink" inevitably my wife will roll her eyes. So does the 10-year-old girl it was intended for. They're more likely to refer to it as Dad's Great White Whale. Call me paranoid, but I'm pretty sure my bride has planted that one. It's not like they're teaching Moby Dick in fourth grade.

It didn't start out this way. In fact, our first adventure in rink building during the Snowmageddon winter of 2011 was spectacular. As spectacular as a little 20-foot skate pond can be. A bitter cold winter with something like 18-foot snow drifts made a winter wonderland back there. We carved paths around the yard; one led from the back door to the long wooden bench I had built overlooking our little puddle nestled behind the shed. Hand-carved snow people lined trails to the fire pit and a sled hill. White lights lined the playhouse and twinkled while the fire flickered.

It was all so easy.

Last year I headed into the season full of confidence. We would go bigger, bolder, better. Double the size of the rink; ring it with lights. Install a net. Winter evenings spent under the gently falling flakes with skates and hot cocoa.

"It's really hard to smoosh slush. I know, I've tried."

You know where this is going, don't you?

The writing was on the unfrozen ground from the start - losing the first plastic liner to the wind, a second attempt ruined by an overzealous black lab who pranced around in the half-filled rink oblivious to the cold and the holes he tore in the plastic. After all that, a New England winter as fickle as the front-runner status in a Republican presidential candidate race.

Southeastern New Hampshire has its own ideas when it comes to weather. Like most of the registered voters here, it prefers to be independent. Maybe it snows like we're at a ski resort. Maybe 40 and partly sunny. Perhaps the backyard rink builder's worst nightmare: 38 degrees with rain. Last season featured lots of that.

That first glorious year, this wasn't a problem. A short thaw was inevitably followed by a stretch of deep freeze, and by the light of the moon (or cheap Christmas lights) I'd smooth the ice. I had done it all with a few two-by fours and 30 bucks in plastic. Super genius. Not last year. Nothing makes a guy depressed like looking out the window and seeing his carefully cultivated ice turning into a 5,000 gallon slush box. It's really hard to smooth slush. I know, I've tried.

We did get a few good sessions out of that rink, even a quick game of hockey. By March 1, however, we had a half-filled muddy pool.

The final insult came when our basset hound left her own message on the bottom of what was, for one shining moment, pristine ice.

That message said it was time to hang up the skates for the season. But there's always another winter on the way.

Maybe we can go even bigger this time. some railings with light poles. It'll be grand.

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