By Tim Jon
Not everyone likes surprises – I’ve come to find; perhaps ironically enough, I seem to actually enjoy change – even upheaval and turmoil – more and more as I advance in years. Now, having written quite a large number of stories in this series over the past decade and more, you can rest assured that I like to have most locations at least scouted out and noted down somewhere for quick reference; having said that, I’m always on the lookout for hidden little gems – many of which are strewn across this varietal County of ours – and I allow myself to feel a little more aligned with the greater universe whenever I make a new discovery (hey – simple pleasures).
Upon clicking some morning photos at a couple of spots in Eastern Loudoun, I made the happy mistake of somehow losing my trail of bread crumbs on the way back to Leesburg – by way of some of the newer neighborhoods in the Ashburn area; being in unfamiliar territory on a Sunday morning just past dawn, my driving was at the pace where my failing eyes could read the small print on the local road signs: I was ‘crawling.’ No great revelation, then, that I spied the sign for Hillside Park in plenty of time to turn into the ample parking area and assess the possibilities: some open sports fields, a few noteworthy tall trees, and – beckoning off to the right, a trail! After a few shots of the panoramic views and Mother Nature’s arbor vitae, I followed the call of the ‘wild’ – or at least, to me, unknown – and plowed ahead onto the paved corridor, looking for adventure.
In what seemed like no distance at all along the path, I topped a modest rise in sea level and found myself in a dead face-off with a very dear old friend: a hockey rink. Now, when I was a tyke, growing up in a small town in Southern Minnesota, one of our beloved annual pastimes (heck, sometimes for what seemed like most of the year!) was gathering at the local ice rink and getting involved in a pick-up hockey game – or two, or three – who’s counting? I’m not even sure who ‘ran’ our old community skating facility: we had a very primitive warming-house (with an ancient, smelly and noisy stove – lined with wooden benches for changing), and – during the last few years of my adolescence – a wooden-boarded hockey rink (even though we had no formal leagues or even played as a school sport).
My hometown memories were quickly humbled as I scoped out the 21st Century layout at Hillside Park; obviously used for roller blades instead of the old-fashioned ice variety, this Loudoun Inline rink was decked out with all the bells and whistles – official lines in brilliant paint, solid-looking fencing, complete with penalty boxes and team seating areas, even accommodations for spectators. When we were kids, I can’t remember anyone ever watching us play hockey – except for a few parents or siblings (admittedly, they would have been experiencing a Minnesota winter through their hindquarters).
We may have had few or no fans, but as I walked the playing area at Hillside Park, I could recall much of the exhilaration, the teamwork (or lack thereof), the exhaustion and perspiration (funny how sweaty you could get, despite freezing temperatures) and the overall sense of joy in movement (many of us were really very good skaters, and could build up an incredible pace, doing laps around the rink); so much of my personal ice hockey history made a return that sunny morning in Ashburn, that I almost felt winded as I completed my collection of images and made my way back to the trail, through the woods, and – once again – to my car.
I was a little sad to leave the rink behind, knowing that I may never return to the community park off Waxpool Road – having ‘more important’ professional duties taking up most of my time and energy, elsewhere in the County. I still get that feel of standing on a field of battle – or at least competition – as I go through the set of photos captured that day. And I have a great store of refreshed memories: playing one of my favorite sports, with my Dad and brothers, and friends and strangers.
I’d like to think that just maybe – someday, somehow – we could do it all over again. And you know? Maybe we just did.