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Monday, April 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dan Thompson: Thanks to mice, the best-laid plans of man go awry

A backyard ice rink as seen in January 2004. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
A backyard ice rink as seen in January 2004. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

There is a hole in my ice rink, and it is maddening.

It is there, somewhere, because there is always another hole.

I did this to myself, really, thinking that a plastic sheet of nearly 1,000 square feet wouldn’t be of any interest to our local mice population, a colony we naively thought the presence of one cat –a talented killer of an orange tabby, but still, just one cat – would mitigate.

But when we unfurled the plastic sheet after storing it in one of our sheds all last spring, summer and fall, it was clear that the mice had taken an interest in it: Holes lined the crease of the sheet.

I am not a hockey player. I can hardly skate. But I love the sport, and our 6-year-old claims that next year he wants to play on a team.

We told him that before we committed to pre-dawn drives for ice time, he needed to prove his love of the game by actually using our ice rink this winter, something he didn’t care to do after it started snowing and it turned out we had an awesome sledding hill out our back door.

That is how I found myself patching about a dozen holes with super glue and stickers during a mild run of weather in late December.

Back in Minnesota, where I grew up and my family lived the better part of the last decade, there are rinks in almost every neighborhood. The local parks organizations flood the baseball and soccer fields, erect walls and maintain the ice all winter.

Admittedly, this is much easier to do in a climate that spends a lot of time below zero each year and in a culture that values skating as a good way to spend an afternoon or an awkward teenage date night.

The upshot is you can basically walk to an ice rink from almost anywhere. And you just can’t stay in a house with small children for an entire winter without going totally mad.

Out here, the climate and culture are not as calibrated to the sport. Yet I vowed to maintain a rink myself.

How hard, I asked myself, could it be?

Last year we received a kit for a 20-by-40 foot rink. It included footings to hold the plywood boards to form the perimeter, and then a white plastic sheet to be the basin for all that water.

And my goodness, it takes a lot of water. Especially when the extent of your surveying is to crouch down and say, “well, the ground looks level enough.” Surveyors: I appreciate you and your tripods a lot more now.

What we ended up with last year was effectively a zero-entry ice rink: the water level was about an inch shy of the top of the 16-inch plywood boards on one end, and about an inch deep on the other.

But it held water. That was enough for me.

It was wonderful. We could strap on our skates, walk across the driveway to the rink and skate until dark. No need to drive to an ice ribbon or rink. It was right there for us (after it finally froze), whenever we wanted it.

Well, we wanted it about six times. Then it snowed all of February, and sledding became much faster – especially because, as it turns out, 5-year-olds and 2-year-olds don’t like to shovel.

In the spring we siphoned out the water into the field, stacked up the boards, neatly piled the footings and stored it all in an outdoor shed. Eventually we got the plastic sheet folded up and stored it with the rest of the supplies.

There it sat until a rainy December afternoon, when a couple friends and I carefully selected what appeared to be a much more level plot in the field, positioned the boards to form a perimeter again and laid out the nibbled plastic sheet.

I identified about a dozen holes, patched them with the glue and plastic stickers that came with the kit, and pointed the hose into the rink.

Four hours later, I claimed victory: The slope only gained about eight inches. The water had a beautiful blue hue to it. I would wait for the freeze.

The next morning, nearly all the water was gone.

Armed with the super glue, kitchen shears, an ever-shrinking sticker sheet and a tattered bedsheet to serve as a towel, I trudged back to the pool.

Inexplicably, I found water leaking out one of my patches that, as it turned out, had failed. I made a new hole when I dropped the scissors and identified a handful more where a blade of stubble had poked through or my own inspections the day before had failed.

I filled it again, claimed victory less cautiously and went in for dinner.

The next morning the drainage was slow but observable. I found another hole. I am sure there are more. My confidence is slipping, and I am running out of stickers.

If parenting hasn’t already made me feel like Sisyphus, this experience has.

But I am not giving up.

I may not win this year, but for next year, I have a better plan: When we fold up that sheet, we’re keeping it inside – near enough to the cat bed, just in case.

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