Feb 21, 2013

A clean sheet of ice

Little kids like to watch the Zamboni.

I suppose it's the novelty of a large vehicle driving around indoors, or the funny shape, with the driver perched on the back like a hood ornament with agoraphobia.

I like what the Zamboni leaves behind.

A fresh, clean, untouched sheet of ice is a magical place. Midday, the rinks are empty, and the sheet stays clear. If you're the first one there, or the only one, your movement is imprinted. You see how you unconsciously match stroke for stroke. You start to consciously trace it, counting laps.

Once around, twice, three, four times around and the strokes line up without your really trying. On a clean sheet of ice you can feel the glide and hear the push and empty your mind, so that your mind is a clean sheet as well, with nothing but the rumble of the blade to hear and the print of the blade to see.


I like to trace the first 5 figures-- outside circle 8s, insides, threes to the center, serpentine left and right. Lay a figure, trace it twice, step over a blade length. Lay the figure, trace it twice, step over a blade length. And again, again, again.

When you're done, on that clean sheet of ice, you've laid a skaters' spirograph of traveling circles, clear and obvious on the shiny, untouched surface. Skill and error clear and obvious.

Standing on the fresh surface of an empty ice rink is the closest thing to infinity this side of orbit. The walls are far away, the ceiling immaterial, the white shiny surface blending into the boards and the glass barrier. You'll never have this much interior space to yourself anywhere else. Three quarters the size of a football field, and yet you can race all the way around in a few seconds. You'll feel the wind in your hair and on your face, but there is no wind that you don't bring yourself. Stop and the wind stops.

Except that when you stop, you don't stop. You keep gliding forward, leaving behind, just a trace.


  1. Xan, this is beautiful! You've captured the poetry-in-waiting of a clear, clean sheet of ice and a pair of blades.

  2. Yeah, post-Zamboni is pretty sublime. After it leaves the ice and the driver shovels off the remaining slush pile by the exit ramp, the rink is quiet and many portions of the ice are still reflectively wet. Slowly the top-water crystallizes to it's streaky milky white, and then the crowd of anxious kids jumps out through the dashers and makes a mess of the place all over again (smile).

    L.A. SkateDad

  3. Nicely done, Xan.

    I will say that when I have private ice I like to blast my tunes though :-)

  4. Very nice post! I must say, my favourite thing to do on a clean sheet of ice, is practice my compulsories. The back cross-rolls at the end of the Argentine Tango are divine on a clean sheet ^__^

    1. And that wonderful sound of the blade ripping the edge!