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Dispatch from the Edge

By Peter Anderson

Other than a blue hole off to the west, from which a late afternoon sun throws a promised-land glow over the hills south of Del Norte, we are driving under a woolen-gray February sky. Crossing over the Rio Grande, gusts of Wolf Creek wind carry billowing sheets of snow down the frozen river toward the ranch where my daughter and I are headed.

Several miles east of Del Norte, we turn off the highway and follow the signs – old-fashioned white figure skates dangling from fence posts and pasture gates – to the river. There we find several people standing around a fire, a little girl roasting a marshmallow, someone cooking brats and chili on a nearby grill, an assortment of grown-ups and kids skating between two homemade hockey goals, and a pack of ranch dogs circling the commotion and chasing the puck, all of this out on a shoveled-off rink of Rio Grande river ice.

Pond hockey, or in this case river hockey, gets in your blood. It has been in mine for a long time. And now as I sit down on a log bench to lace up my blades, and I hear skates carving up the ice and sticks slapping pucks, I flash back briefly to a frozen scene some forty-five years ago: I’m with a good pal, long strong striding into the great beyond of a glassy black-iced lake, sliding the puck back and forth across the smoothness of it all, faster and further, faster and further, world without end, amen.

I could live in that flashback, but duty calls and I help my daughter lace up her skates. I grab her a short stick and show her how to lean on it for balance. She’s a little wobbly, but she’ll do fine. So I grab myself a stick out of the pile and soon we are out in the fray. And it’s slapstick, slapstick, and poke away the puck. And it’s weave left, weave right, and steer through a maze of long legs and short legs. I forget, for a short while, that I am now 57 and out of shape.

This ice, like any natural freeze, as opposed to the Zambonied surface most skaters are used to, has its own topography – bumps, ripples, criss-crossing fissures, mushy edges. I relearn this as I get the puck on a fast break and catch a blade in a soft spot, flying face first into a snowbank. “Yeah, it’s a little soft over there,” says one of my teammates.

All too soon, the sun has gone down. “Where’s the moon when you need it?” I hear someone say. By now our silhouetted herd of puck-chasers has thinned out, and we part ways even more to let the little skaters make some memories. My daughter gets the puck and slaps and whiffs and slaps and whiffs and then shoots again. Score!!

I will learn on the drive home that this game is now in her blood too. Yes, I tell her, we will play again soon.

Everyone should have a river, as Joni Mitchell said, “to skate away on.”