I wrote this passage, I think, in 2010. Or maybe 2009. It was some of the first writing I did related to Seeking the Center (although it is not in the published book). At the time, I was thinking about the cyclical nature of a hockey life - a nomadic sort of existence where you move from place to place with the seasons. You earn money playing during the winter, and then return to farm or factory to earn your keep during the summer. I was thinking about these two modes of existence, equal parts of your livelihood - and your personhood. How are they different from one another?
During practice the sounds pinball: the digging and scraping of steel blades into the ice, the rattling fright of the puck against the boards, the clattering of sticks, the whoops and calls of the boys. But as soon as we turn to go, and our skate blades sink mutely into the rubber-mat path that leads to the dressing room, the sounds cease their ricocheting and hang quiet like bats in a cave. Because the hard rink air is as empty as an icicle. There's nothing in it but itself.
When the season is over I go home. There the air is full. It holds the scents of grasses and flowers and animals and dirt; it holds bird songs and wind rustlings and ghost rustlings. Yes, ghosts - in the air and even on the ground. Because there, every mark ever made, every footfall, every poop leaves its trace. Not like in the rink, where every hour or two a machine comes to clean up and scrape away. In there - it's like Coach says - let yesterday's game go, play today's game. But outside the rink there's no machine to scrape it all away. Outside, every trace remains.
It’s slow-going at home. Instead of the slick, easy surface of the ice there are stones and tall tangled weeds and gopher holes. But there is solace in the slowness: there is space to slip away, time to remember. My legs swish through the hayfield and the grasshoppers make way. In the afternoon I retreat to the thick shade that lines the river and I cool off in the murky water, a big, naked muskrat with a trailing, sliver wake. I add my heavy step to the scurried histories of my brethren, impressed on the mudflat. From my fleshy prints they know me, and take me as their own.