Falling in love with shifting sands

I more or less grew up down at Lorne so sand was always a key ingredient in my life. Mostly it was something scorching hot to somehow run across between the grass of the Lorne foreshore and the surf. Or it was the wet, gritty crap somehow finding its way into a thick winter wetsuit, no matter how hard you tried not to have sandy feet, leaving nasty rub-rashes that screeched on the skin in the post-surf shower. Beach sex raised a whole new set of issues that probably shouldn’t be discussed in a family-friendly hockey blog. (Nonetheless, I’m ‘for’ it.)

As a young kid, I adored standing on the edge of those sand cliffs that form on beaches after a strong storm, crumbling the edge of the cliff beneath me, often ending up with my foot and jean cuffs in the river. Oops. These days, it’s all about the hardness and flatness of the sand’s surface, as a petanque pitch.

Petanque - an excellent use of sand.

Petanque – an excellent use of sand.

But none of sand’s crimes or games were enough to give me a strong opinion for or against sand. It just was.

Until a few years ago, when I was sent, on assignment by an airline magazine, to Oodnadatta. (The actual eventual story is here)

Oodnadatta is a South Australian town, so far off the map it is literally not covered by any shire or council. It’s 200 kilometres up a corrugated dirt road from Coober Pedy, which isn’t exactly an urban metropolis. Cowboy towns; literally in Oodnadatta’s case, with giant beef stations all around. It used to be a stop on the Ghan railway and the town’s Intercontinental Hotel remains a colourful but genuinely dangerous drinking venue. A guy was killed in the front bar a few days after we were there.

I’d never really put any thought to Oodnadatta before I got sent there, to cover the annual gymkhana and races. But suddenly, here was my dad and I, bouncing along that endless dirt road in a Toyota “troopie”, 20 litres of water in the back, along with satellite navigation gear and other survival essentials. People die on roads like this.

It’s desert; nothing but desert. To the point that Mission to Mars, a mediocre Brian De Palma film, was shot there at the turn of the millennium, because it was the surface of Earth that Hollywood felt most resembled that alien red planet. Not a single distinguishable feature in any direction to the horizon, for 360 degrees, apart from the road itself.

On the road to Oodnadatta. Or on Mars. Who can tell?

On the road to Oodnadatta. Or on Mars. Who can tell?

Sounds pretty boring, huh? But it wasn’t at all. Because over that trip, I gained an entirely new appreciation for sand. As a kid, we used to holiday in Queensland, where you could literally collect “coloured sand” from beachside cliffs near Noosa (you would then put layers of the colours in old bottles for truly crappy works of art that kicked around our house for decades), but the central Australian sands were different. There were hues and grains and entire hills that shifted in colour and texture as the kilometres ticked over. Just as rainforest might change to grassland. I started seeing the landscape as incredibly diverse and beautiful, when previously I would have seen, well, sand.

If you’re open to it, there’s a guide to life right there, folks, and one I still carry with me. Even when you think life is routine, day-to-day, clock-on/clock-off, it’s almost certainly not. There are shades and angles and dimensions going on, if you only look for them.

I’ve come to realize that one of the most interesting parts of my hockey adventure is how the sands are ever shifting. A week ago, I was signed to do Intermediate class at the Icehouse. Again. For the umpteenth time, just to keep working on my outside edges and transitions, and to get some ice time. In which, I’m sure, I would have found new learnings and experiences (see above).

But then a 10 pm development league slot opened up and so Big Cat and I switched out of Inter, and now I’m doing double dev, 8.45 pm and 10 pm, which means two hours of hard skating against hockey friends, with furious meaningless battle and laughter. I adore Wednesday nights, not least because this week, for the first time ever, I went coast-to-coast, carrying the puck from deep in defence to score a goal, just like Pavel Datsyuk does …

OK, nothing like Pavel Datsyuk does.

But also because Mackquist, my younger son and buried in the remorselessness of Year 12, has stepped up to join Big Cat and I in the first hour of dev league, and Mack did really well in his opening appearance. Even if he was one of the opposition I managed to get past, early in the dash to my goal, and he whacked me as I went by. All I heard as I skated doggedly forward was his voice trailing behind me: “Sorry, Daaaaaad!” which made me grin, even as I skated.

This was all after I’d watched friends go into the winter draft and disappear into winter competition. More changes, even though it’s awesome for them all.

And it was after I’d made my debut for the Nite Owls on Sunday night, which will need to be a blog all on its own, and the day before I was due to see a knee surgeon about the ongoing Battle of Wounded Knee. A joint specialist – one of Richmond footy club’s doctors, actually – had read the MRI summary and told me he thought the meniscal tear I’m carrying was almost certainly going to need an arthroscope surgery. But then Thursday’s surgeon looked at the MRI films and said no, let’s try some more physio and see how you go …

Late night dev league: a cult classic.

Late night dev league: a cult classic. (And this shot is a year or so old. I’m sure my stance would never look like that now. Right? Right?)

I had been depressed about the idea of being booked in fast for surgery and being out of hockey for a while, missing all those Wednesday and Sunday nights, or having to wait for surgery, which meant no running, footy , boxing, etc, until the knee was fixed. Now? Well, actually, I have no idea what the latest developments mean.

Physio, I guess. And try again to kick a footy at The Bang, and see how sore I am … and hope I don’t pile on weight or lose condition before I can get seriously active again.

Or see what next week’s medical appointment says. Or what happens in next week’s dev league hours. Or whether work gets in the way. Or trips out of town, for pleasure or to promote the new book. Or whether I whoop as the bits-and-pieces Detroit Red Wings somehow sneak into the NHL play-offs or sigh as the 21-year streak ends … Or whether Melbourne Ice gets off to a winning start tomorrow …

… or … or …

The sands are never the same. Ever-changing. Which is, I guess, why this blog has survived this long.

What happens next? Your guess is as good as mine.

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