Across the world's frost belt, more than a million people go curling each winter. The vast majority are in Canada, where the game takes a back seat only to ice hockey. About 160 of the 15,000 devotees in this country are associated with the Heather Curling Club in Mapleton, Minnesota, a rural community with a strong Scottish presence. On a typical night at the club's rink, the sound of stones sliding across the "sheets" competes with the constant chatter of curling. "Remember, we've got the hammer!" "Take 'er out, Cathy!" "Off the broom!"
Most modern sports were invented in the last century, but curling goes back at least as far as the 1500s. No one knows who cast the first stone, but it was most likely thrown on a frozen loch in Scotland. Scottish soldiers brought the game to North America during the French and Indian War.
Curling is a bit like shuffleboard on ice, but it's played with more finesse and strategy. Brooms are used to help a sliding stone travel farther and in the right direction. In communities like Mapleton, the spirit of curling is passed on from one generation to the next. One night Mary Duncanson, still active at the rink at 71, was playing in one match while her husband, son and nephew were playing in others nearby. Her grandchildren, too, are learning the game. For folks like the Duncansons, curling is much more than a pastime; it's a way to keep a family and a community together.