Craig J. Hansen

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Blind on Ice


I went curling. If you’re not familiar with curling, it is like shuffleboard on ice, where you slide a 42 pound granite stone over an ice sheet to a target area that seems about half a mile away. You try to get your stone on the bullseye and, at the same time, try to knock the stones of the competing team into perdition.

Generally speaking, impaired vision and ice are incompatible. A white cane can’t tell you if you are tapping pavement or ice. Well, that’s not completely true. I suppose with a well-tuned ear, one could tell the difference. Not me. It’s kind of fun: you are walking along on pavement or in soft, friendly snow when you unexpectedly step on a patch of ice. You slip, you flail, you slide. Whee! Then, of course, you fall, get up, walk 20 feet, and do it all again.

Anyway, friends brought me curling. They think I need to get out of my comfort zone. I tell them I don’t have a comfort zone, but telling people what you really think rarely seems to work. Actually, they were great, and together, we left the -3 degree temperature outside for the, I don’t know, maybe 10 degree temperature indoors. Since a set of curling matches, or “ends,” takes about two hours, it seems to me that a player would have to be dressed too warmly to move or simply pass through hypothermia for the game to be completed. But they have this activity called sweeping. That’s where you rub a nylon broom in front of the sliding stone to create friction, which, theoretically, slightly melts the ice so that the granite rock slides more easily. The harder and faster you sweep with your stubby little broom, the more the ice, theoretically, cooperates. Since the distance between where you launch the rock and where it ends up is about 4 miles, you do begin to warm up, and you live.  And since you have to walk back to where the rock was launched, which is about 6 miles, you get your exercise, especially because you are walking on ice.

The nice thing about this ice is that death does not lurk below. In winter, Minnesota is covered with ice. We are the land of 10,000 lakes and mostly they are frozen. I tell people who are new to Minnesota to be careful of the lakes in summer, as they are not stiff and if you try to walk on them you will submerge and since most Minnesota lakes hover around 33° throughout the summer, that is unpleasant. This does not stop people from Minnesota from going out on the ice. They are drawn to it. They drive their trucks across frozen lakes, they build temporary houses for ice fishing, they skip snowmobiles across stretches of open water between sheets of ice, they skim across the ice on strange contraptions with sails. A certain percentage fall through and are never seen again.

Anyway, back to curling. I couldn’t begin to see the target area. In fact, I could barely see the granite rock and proved that by hitting my foot on it a number of times. But my friends would line me up and I would launch my hunk of granite. If there was silence, I knew that my rock was traveling somewhere unexpected. If someone told people to sweep, I knew my rock was still within the walls of the curling facility. And a couple of times, I actually landed one in the target area, a living example of pure chance. My sweeping was just as impressive. I couldn’t see the approaching stone until it was about to bowl me over, and then I would start to sweep like crazy, sometimes in front of the rock, sometimes besides it, and sometimes behind it. This is not what you are supposed to do, but I had hypothermia and everyone knows this clouds your judgment. After sweeping for the about 11 miles between where you launch the rock to the target area, you begin to feel the tingle of warm blood in your extremities.

But back to the lakes. There, because of mysterious forces, like schooling fish, freshwater springs, thermal layering, and freaky movements of subatomic particles, the ice varies in thickness. At one spot, it can support a Boeing 747. A few feet away, a parakeet would break through. Curling was first developed on this kind of wild water, on the lochs of Scotland, not that long after a devastating round of bubonic plague. My theory is that the Scots developed a careless attitude towards death.

Nowadays, you won’t break through the ice at the curling facility. But they do keep some of the old traditions alive. Whichever team loses the match buys drinks for the winning team. And then, naturally, the winning team reciprocates. And so it goes.

I’m not saying this is always a good thing, but sometimes it’s nice to be surrounded by impaired people.

Copyright 2015 by Craig J. Hansen