Sunday, February 01, 2004

A moment of beauty 

Last night I went out with a few friends to Dow's Lake Pavillion, the mouth of what is Ottawa's primary winter attraction, the Rideau Canal. It was fairly cold--probably about -27 C with windchill--but we were far from the only ones who wanted to get a bit of night skating in. Unfortunately, I couldn't do much of it at all. I haven't skated anywhere in several years--living in other places will do that--and the only pair of skates I own are a few sizes too small. Thus, I had to rent a pair, and due to timing glitches only had about 20 minutes on the ice. It's a little scary to make the patchy outdoor rink the first foray into skating after years of inactivity--perhaps a local indoor rink where I could hold on to the side would have been easier--but once I got over my dorkish fear I was fine. Then, when time was up, I returned the skates, put on my boots, and went back outside to join my friends.

There's been a bit of controversy of late in the local papers this weekend; the Federal Capital Commission, the folks who make sure the Canal is safe for skating and keep track of statistics, say that it's the "world's longest rink" at 7.8 km. But Dave Taylor of the Citizen decided to test that, and found that according to his calculations, it's only 6.2 km. So what to do if some other place builds a longer rink? A bit of healthy silliness, but I'm only using it to make this point: it's long, and at night, when the snow is barely visible and the lights brighten up the dark sky, it's truly an unforgettable sight.

I don't go out to look for beauty amongst my life and surroundings, but when I find it, I love it. One of the first-ever pieces I wrote was about sitting in a taxicab on my way back into Manhattan. It was night-time and we crossed the 59th Street Bridge, and suddenly all the skyscrapers and lights rose up to meet me. That moment encompassed everything I loved about New York at the time, and still do. So goes for the Rideau Canal. I was walking along the ice to the hot chocolate stand where my friends had skated on ahead of me. Halfway there, I stopped. It was so quiet, and I was all alone with only a few silhouettes ahead and behind me. I turned around and saw the lights illuminating the canal, and felt how wide-open the space was. It was cold, but an exhilarating kind of cold, the one that makes you feel stronger.

No wonder people love to come here and skate.

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