Zen and the Art of Ice Rink Maintenance

Ice Rink in Arcadia, MI

Arcadia ice rink 2014, Arcadia MI. Photo courtesy John Jass.

It starts with the equipment- a donated John Deere snow blower, circa 1980. Who knew they even made them? No complaints though, as she has run steadily this year — noisy, shaky and smokey, but steadily. Get the gas can and give it a shake to ensure the oil mixed in hasn’t settled to the bottom. The motor is old and probably been worked hard — you want as much lubrication as possible. Top off the tank and turn on the key. It’s cold and she hasn’t run in a week so you slide the choke lever all the way over, closing the butterfly valve, which restricts the air to the carburetor, choking it off, helping to draw fuel more easily into the motor.

Then it’s a few pumps of the primer bulb — shooting fuel directly into the motor — giving it something to run on before the fuel is drawn past the butterfly valve. Don’t want to prime too much though — then she’ll flood and it will take a number of pulls before all the raw fuel can be purged. Rather to start lean — we can always add more if she doesn’t start right away. Time to pull. First try and she barely kicks, but she kicks and that means she’s alive and now it’s just a matter of time before she’s running. Second pull and she turns right over and begins to run rich- firing unevenly, coughing along, drowning in the overly rich mixture of gas and air. Slide the choke over to the middle and she clears up and begins to run smoothly and slide the lever to closed and she starts to labor — too lean — she’s starving for fuel which is not surprising as she’s cold, so back to the middle and she evens right out, so it’s time to take her to the rink. No sense in hauling her out if she won’t run, and the walk gives the motor a good spell to warm up. Now at the center of the rink and you slide the choke all the way off and she’s singing now- running fast and smooth, and so, you begin.

And there’s nothing there. Just a clean slate of emptiness to be filled. You’re anxious to start but unsure of which way to go- each direction is as valid as the other. But you must start somewhere- so you begin right in front of you. And the first steps are tentative, and small, and unsure. But you continue, hoping to make sense of it soon. And pretty quickly you are turning around and going the other way- and then again, and again, and you don’t seem to be going anywhere. But soon enough there’s a track beginning to emerge and you start to follow it- back and forth and around and around. And it’s fast- you’re covering ground quickly with an energy of excitement- finally on your way- the journey has begun and it feels good to be moving as the chill starts to burn off.

And then before you notice it you’re past the beginning and starting to cruise. The machine is sending out steam as the snow melts and falls on the muffler and you look up and notice the bigger picture around you. You can see the pattern beginning to emerge, and you can see the open space ahead of you, and you know now which way you have to go- so you settle into a rhythm and continue on the way. After a while it all begins to feel the same- all curves now, one continuous, gentle arc, laid upon the one before it. The engine drowning out all other sounds- a deafening white noise that fills up your head. Another step forwards, and another, and another- always angling to the left, overlapping the previous row so that there is no break in the pattern. And you continue- walking out the path you chose.

Eventually you start to sense the proximity of the edge- the border isn’t that far away now. You realize that without even knowing it, you crossed the line where there is less ahead than has past. And it feels good- confident now in your ability, and happy with the pattern that has been created, and looking forward to the new challenges that lay ahead- bored with the sameness of the middle. And you understand that to complete the pattern you will have to modify it- you can’t fit a circle into a square. But there is nothing to worry about because you know how to solve the problem before it arises, so you are prepared when the flat edges intrude into the arcs- merging them into each other so that even though the pattern has changed, its continuity hasn’t been broken.

And then you’re done. And you look around and think simultaneously — “How impressive” and “How insignificant”.

2 replies
  1. Andrew says:

    “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

    Touche’, Salesman.

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