Ice and Snow

By Matt Potter

Radical Joy — Catholic Stewardship and Abundance

The recent cold weather got me thinking about the relativism of climate and comfort. I have lived in snow states for all but the last three years. The moderate nature of Evansville’s climate is far different than that to which I have been accustomed.

Growing up in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, snow was just part of life. It typically showed up in November, then hung around until March. Warm days where it would melt were few and far between.

The snow had to be cleared from the streets and sidewalks. My dad would use his snow blower moving all the snow from the sidewalk onto the little grassy area between the sidewalk and the street. The city snow plows added to the pile by pushing the snow to the same place, and thus were created mounds of the stuff that would reach 6 feet high. Backing out of the driveway was an exercise in both terror and faith, as we never knew if we were going to get whacked when we hit the street as the man-high piles of snow bookending the driveway entrance prevented us from seeing what was coming from either side.

All winter long, the snow and ice became our playground. There was a skating pond – the Lagoon to the locals - just a 5-minute walk from my home. It was operated by the county park system and included lights for night skating and a warming house. Every night after dinner and homework, I would throw my skates over my shoulder and head down there to skate with my friends.

Just beyond the Lagoon was our vertical adrenaline rush. Carved out of the woods were the sledding hills named Miller Hill, Lady Finger, Devil’s Backbone and an assortment of places too scary to be named. There was a snow fence at the bottom of these hills that kept us from shooting out to the road on our sleds and into traffic. The mark of a successful run was hitting the fence with enough residual energy to break its wooden slats with the metal fronts of our sleds. Hours were spent going down those hills at breakneck speed, then trudging back up to the top to do it all over again.

Miller Hill had three runs that melded into one about halfway down. Games of chicken were common, with three sled drivers all starting at the same time – one from each side and one from the middle – seeing who could get to the common crossing first in an attempt to avoid a fiery wreck before going down the big part of the run.

The middle run was the steepest, and it started at the seldom-used railroad track at the top. To go down this run properly, you had to lay down on the sled face first, digging your hands into the snow to keep you and your sled from leaving early and shooting down the hill out of control. Then you had to hook the toes of your boots over the tracks while hanging onto the sled, dangling at 45 degrees with your head pointed downhill. Lifting your feet off the track plus gravity equaled a hundred-mile-per-hour run into the face of death itself, ending at the aforementioned snow fence. Cracking a slat was a coveted result.

Well, maybe there’s a little hyperbole in those tales, but not much. At least to a 10-year-old boy. Spending three hours on a Sunday afternoon with my friends, in 15-degree weather, flying down an icy hill propelled only by momentum, were some of the best times of my childhood.

Thank you, God, for the gifts of snow, cold weather and parents who understood how important it was to be allowed to experience the wonder of winter outdoors. 

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