Curling in Northern Michigan: Rock and a Cold Place

For the next hour, I sit in the warm, carpeted viewing area, ankles crossed, notebook out, watching, writing furiously, asking questions and feeling mystified. As two teams take to the ice, longtime club member Bob Turpa takes me under his wing to explain the game. A soft-spoken man with little use for excess explanation, Bob tells me, “You got two teams. Four on each side.” He pauses. “Each person throws two stones. You alternate.” Long pause. Then he points through the glass, where two sets of red, white and blue bull’s-eyelike circles—each called the house—sit 140 feet across from each other at opposite ends of the ice. “You want to get your stone in the center,” he says.

The door leading from the rink cracks open. A tall, thin guy in glasses and a green coat—Tim Dykstra—pokes his head in and looks at me. “You wanna throw one?” he asks.

I jump off the tall chair and head in. The moment I step through, a burst of cold bites my cheeks. “28 degrees,” he says, cheerfully. In the old days, he tells me, before the curlers acquired equipment to maintain a constant cold, team members would lift low doors in the walls to let in the outside winter air and keep the indoor ice from melting.

Tim walks over to an equipment box and hands me the inexpensive equivalent of the thickly soled, orthopedic-looking curling shoe the rest of the guys here sport on one foot: a flimsy black slipper. It reminds me of the disposable kind they give you for free in hospitals, except this one has a hard white teflon bottom. He instructs me to pull it over my left shoe. I do, and eagerly step onto the ice. My left foot flies out from under me, but before I fall, a man grabs one of my flailing arms. “Rule No. 1 in curling,” Tim says. The man holding my elbow finishes his sentence: “Never step onto the ice with your slider foot.”

Walking like a peg-legged pirate across the ice, my left foot slipping wildly and my right foot hop-stepping me forward, I follow Tim to one end of the lane. He slides a polished gray rock over to me. “Try to pick that up,” he says. I grab the handle and yank. It barely lifts a centimeter, and its surprising weight nearly sends me face first into the ice. The rocks are granite, he tells me. Each weighs 42 pounds. The granite comes from only two quarries in the world, one in Scotland, one in Wales. Each of Lewiston’s rocks utilizes both regions’ granite—one granite forms the rock’s outer surface, which hits the other rocks; the other granite forms the rock’s bottom, the surface that sails across the ice.

We spend a few minutes adjusting my legs into the crouched, trackstarlike throwing position. I hold the rock’s handle in my right hand and curl my left arm around an upturned curling broom, which I’ll use for balance.

A group of curlers stand behind me, talking, laughing and thankfully, paying no attention to my first attempt. When Tim gives the cue, I push off as hard as I can with my right foot. My right knee drags across the ice as I glide, frozen in my lunge position, toward the release line. A silence settles among the group behind me. The only sound in my ears, besides the buzz of the fluorescent lights overhead, is the low, slow rumble of the rock—the “curr” as the Scottish call it—as we move in slow-motion tandem across the ice.

As I near the line, I let go of the rock and watch, as hopeful as a young mother watching her toddler’s first steps, as it slides on without me. Every inch it slides, it slows, moving like a paint droplet down a wall, before finally coming to rest inches from the center of the house. The men behind me burst into applause and shouts. Beaming, I stand up, then pirate-shuffle toward them. “She’s a natural,” one yells. Another slaps my back as I approach and announces, “She’s on our team.”

And just like that, I’m in the club.

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