Before apparent radical climate change, in the olden days, the early 1970’s, one used to be able to skate on a frozen pond in the northern stretches near the Ontario/Michigan border from late November through mid-March. Our local pond would freeze and stay frozen all winter, and the snowfall was plentiful enough that the neighbourhood kids were required to shovel it off at least twice a week.
These days, Staples’ Pond freezes about four days a year.
I recall as a five-year-old following my two older brothers down to Joe Staples backyard. Two doors down was a long way then from the perspective of a little kid, and because we had decent size yards to walk through. Staples’ pond was a mythical place for a little brother. Previously I had only been allowed to watch from a distance. From our driveway, or back porch, you could hear the skates, the sticks, the hollers and laughter coming from down the hill. Finally I was allowed to don a pair of hand-me-down Bauers and take to the ice.
Staples’ pond was attached to a marsh which trickled into a creek which ran through the bottom of the neighbourhood, alongside a gravel street appropriately called Shallow Brook. The pond was shaped like a hockey rink on three sides, half the size; the one open end became a swamp full of cattails. My brothers carried their skates on their sticks over their shoulders. Hockey was an afterthought for me in year one, I wore mittens and snow pants to skate. It was my job to stay out of the way. I stuck near the edge, where the ice became smooth, away from the bumpy open surface, where the older boys took slapshots. I skated that first day until I could no longer feel my feet or fingers. I came home to the floor vent, sat on the heat register, and endured the odd pain that came with recirculation. I warmed my hands by petting the dog.
Every afternoon and every weekend day it seemed the neighbourhood descended on Staples’ pond. We rarely saw Joe, he never said yea or nay, but he obviously didn’t mind the convergence of kids. We took home what we brought, we never littered, we were polite, and except on rare occasion the language was clean. It was mostly boys; the occasional girl would skate after school with an older brother until the hockey began. The homemade nets came out, the Sherwoods and Christian Brothers were flung in a pile to choose sides, and the marathon game would begin. Crisp sounds, visible breath, continuous fun. All too quickly, voices would be heard from beyond the marsh or up the hill, moms or dads calling boys home for supper. When our name was called last, or nearly, my brother would pass me the puck in the dark. For this I am thankful.
Decades later, I found myself paying ten dollars to skate with my son. We’d play ‘stick and puck’ on artificial ice under a roof. It would be crowded, but we’d use the traffic for training. Crisp sounds, not so visible breath, and nearly continuous fun. We’d laugh and pass the puck. The spirit lived on. For this I am thankful.
Joe Staples pond sits quietly unfrozen.