This old sled was a Christmas gift from me to my son Wesley when he about ten years old. Shortly after the holidays, we were blanketed with a lovely snowfall and hardly able to contain our enthusiasm, my son and I headed to Pilot Knob State Park. It was a steady snowfall, no breeze whatsoever, a still and glorious backdrop to our efforts as we gleefully trudged up the steep hill that overlooks Dead Man’s Lake. This was a popular sledding spot that afforded a thrilling ride down a seemingly perpendicular drop and then a long skid across the ice of the frozen pond below.
I can still recall – with a huge smile on my face – the magic we both felt as we made our way to the crest of the hill. We had the place to ourselves and the anticipation was almost tangible. Finally, we made it to the top and as we dropped the sled, ready to course down the trail, reality rudely and abruptly brought us up short. The snow was a fine powder, clean, white and distinct – each and every one of those hundreds of thousands of uniquely magnificent flakes. Beautiful to behold but certainly not the right texture for sledding. Wesley’s brand spankin’ new sled was designed for hard-packed surfaces and as such, it dropped with a thud and was buried beneath that fluffy accumulation of winter precipitation. Wesley and I just looked at each other – and then we laughed. All our efforts to climb the hill, the huffing and puffing, the exertion required to carry ourselves and Wesley’s new sled all that way were for naught. It didn’t matter though because my son and I were together, sharing a wonderful moment and unbeknownst to us at the time, creating a powerful memory.
To this day, it still makes me smile.
Farewell to fall and, depending on where one lives, hello to the beauty and bluster of winter. For some of us here in the Midwest, we’ve gotten an early taste of what perhaps awaits us in the long months ahead.
Autumn is my favorite time of year, chock full of warm and welcoming colors and that indescribable scent and weight and feel of the invigorating, crisp and, at times, brisk air. The inevitable cycle of the seasons dictates, however, that fall must give way to what comes next: snow, wind, ice and cold.
Enter the holiday season with all its pageantry, light, love, laughter and cherished traditions. Thanksgiving, that unique American celebration, replete with feasting, family, food and football, sets the tone for Christmas. More of the same and then some…
Childhood memories and nostalgia for what was (or perhaps that which we believe had once been) is a mighty force behind the potency of the Christmas holiday. We recall the eager anticipation and countdown of Santa’s arrival, the heady excitement of seeing the bounty beneath the tree come Christmas morning, the songs and carols that still make us smile, the red and green and gold and silver of holiday décor triggering a feeling of contentment unlike any other event of the calendar year.
The holiday season is upon us now, providing those of us in more frigid climes with a welcome distraction from the bitter wind-chills, icy roads and snowy driveways that winter promises to deliver in the weeks and months ahead. And yet, winter in December can be beautiful. Softly falling snow, the calm stillness of winter woods, frost on windows and the delighted cries of children playing outdoors, rosy cheeks and colorful caps, scarves and mittens to keep them warm.
Perspective is everything and I, for one, choose to embrace this transition from fall to winter just as I did when I was a child: filled with starry-eyed wonder and an appreciation of the changing of the guard from one season to that which follows.
Right now – in the middle of November – thanks to the polar vortex or whatever the heck it is that’s wreaking havoc on not just our beloved Midwest but throughout all of the country, there is snow on the ground.
Granted, there isn’t as much here where I live in central Iowa as what they are experiencing elsewhere in the state or farther north but the white stuff is here and with frigid temps like this, it’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon.
Snow is, however, a vital ingredient if one wishes to enjoy riding snowmobiles. That and warm attire, a full tank of gas, a smoothly operating machine and, ideally, sunny skies, no wind and winter temperatures in the 20s. At least, that’s the recollection of my teenage years when Dad, for a few years, became first a Sno Prince and then a Mercury snowmobile dealer.
On a trip to visit our cousins north of Minneapolis, most likely during the Christmas holidays, I saw the bright headlights, zipping through the roadside ditches, of several of these newfangled contraptions that I’d only just recently heard of – a moment that I can still vividly recall. I was intrigued so when Dad announced some time later that he was going to start selling snowmobiles, I was wild with anticipation.
The night Dad pulled into the driveway with the long trailer loaded with new sleds, we girls were already in our jammies. Snow was lightly falling and despite the hour, the air was still and relatively warm. Sensing our excitement, Dad unloaded one of the sleds and prepped it for take-off. Wearing only my PJs and slippers on my feet, I took it for a spin in the field north of our house. ‘Yee-HAW!’ I squealed with delight at the speed, the smooth ride and the exhilaration of motion in play. This was FUN and I wanted more!
Over the next couple of winters, I rode the school bus along country roads and pictured myself riding on imaginary snowmobile trails through the ditches and corn fields as we stopped to pick up and deliver students before and after the school day. I bought my first (red!) snowmobile suit, boots and gloves at the local Big Bear farm store and sewed on patches that I bought from a vendor catalog: Don’t Eat Yellow Snow and I [Heart] Sno Prince. We were always pestering Dad to take us snowmobiling at night and I remember one particular evening he said he would if the local weather forecast showed the temperature was above zero. It was and we went!
My sisters Kelly and Lorie were my primary partners in crime although all of us six girls enjoyed the sport. Kelly, especially, shared my enthusiasm – so much so that she gushed about it in a diary entry. Kelly has a fantastic sense of humor, is very creative and has always been quite good at tinkering with things and figuring out how they work. She is, however, a terrible speller. ‘We had so much fun today on the snomoblees!’ she wrote. Being the dutiful older sister, I teased her mercilessly about her error but today her choice of spelling still makes me smile.
I enjoyed pulling my sisters behind our trusty Sno Prince on those slick plastic, saucer sleds. As my sister Nanette righted herself after falling off (following a sharp turn on my part!), she pulled on her stocking cap and just as she attempted to rotate it so she could see out of the eye holes, I gunned it. She had no choice but to grab onto the sled with both hands, hanging on for dear life, and it still makes me laugh to recall looking back and watching her trying to stay on the sled but not able to see! As she would say, funneling her best SNL voiceover, ‘good times, good times’.
Our neighbors down the road, the Robbins, also had snowmobiles and we sometimes got together to ride. One particularly boring Saturday, I sat at the window yearning to see their sled coming up over the hill. The wind was blowing drifts across the road and suddenly – I couldn’t believe it! – there was Brad riding his sled. And he was headed for our place for an afternoon of snowmobile fun. Dad sometimes took us riding to their house as well and I remember one warm and pleasurable evening there when they served us toast and hot cocoa.
Today, if we owned an acreage I would not hesitate to reenter the world of snowmobiling. The sleds these days are pretty slick, streamlined, equipped with plenty of storage and heated seats, steering bars and runners for your feet. They come, I’m sure, with a pretty hefty price tag and some winters see little snow, making these expensive beasts unusable for much of the season. No matter. If we had the space and the time (always the time, isn’t it?), I’d have one again in a heartbeat. Because, for this gal, it’s hard to beat winter fun on a snomoblee!
Science has never been my strong suit. Blame it on cultural conditioning — the thinking in some circles (while I was growing up) that decreed math and science as school subjects for the boys while reading and English and social studies were topics that girls excelled in. Or perhaps it was merely just a lack of motivation on my part or (more likely) just that I was indeed more interested in reading (which I always have been).
So while I plodded along during science class – always doing my homework and paying attention in class – when it came to studying the weather I truly did struggle to comprehend. Show me pictures of the different cloud types and I simply drew a blank: whether grade school, junior high or high school science class, I was at a loss to differentiate an altocumulous from a cirrus. To this day I still don’t understand how high pressure vs. low pressure impacts the seven-day forecast.
As a non-traditional student, first at a local community college and then later in pursuit of my bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University, I originally set out to major in mathematics. I remember being very surprised to learn that one of the students in my calculus classes wanted to major in meteorology. He told me he’d always been fascinated by the weather. This was a foreign concept to me. Fascinated by the weather? Seriously? Of all the things to be fascinated by in this huge, beautiful, complex world of ours it would never have occurred to me that weather might be at the top of the list for some folks. Before I finished with my degree I would meet two others similarly enthralled with the science and ‘mystery’ in the skies above us – one of whom is currently a meteorologist for one of the local channels here in Des Moines.
Older and presumably wiser now I do have more of an appreciation for the weather if not exactly for the science behind it. I have always loved thunderstorms and I say this only half-jokingly but someday I would like to actually witness a tornado with my own eyes. Hurricanes are one phenomenon of nature that is hard for us land-locked Midwesterners to comprehend – thankfully! – but I am still in awe of the power and forcefulness (and the destruction) these storms are capable of unleashing. Living on a golf course that is fully open to the western sky, winter storms and blizzards are a mighty sight to behold as the winds and snow come ripping along the fairway outside our north-facing windows. Trudging through waist-high drifts once the storms have passed it is utterly amazing to ponder how such wind-blown beauty could possibly result from laying on one small snowflake upon another and another and another again. Over and over. Mind-boggling, really.
So yes, I suppose you could say that I too now have a fascination for the weather and what can be wrought by the wrath and fury (and delight) of Mother Nature. Now if I could just get this low pressure thing figured out…