Saturday, January 29, 2011

Recklessly dashing through the snow

Today's technology changes everything. Now a snow day is not just a day off from school, a chance to bundle up, find a hill and let gravity entertain you.

Bring along a camera and it's an event, one to watch back at the house -- and in years to come.

Those runs down a hill in Brooklyn's Prospect Park take me back to one spring when my family visited my mom's brother in Maine. It was either an early Easter -- one of those Easter-in-late-March years -- or a late snowstorm that dumped several inches on my uncle's property.

Up the road, one of the two neighbors who lived within walking distance had a son who was a year older than me and for a couple of years, he and I would hang out during my family's visits. He came over after the snow piled up and we took a couple of sleds out into the yard.

Most of Uncle John's 200-some acres (at least, I think that's how big the property is; I asked once and that number seems to stand out in my head) is covered by forest -- including the hill. Paths through the pines lead down to the Sheepscot River and even now when I visit, one of the first things I do is walk across the lawn and down the short incline to the main path down to the river. The drop gets steeper as the pines stand taller until it opens up at the copper-brown water passing over the rocks on the river bottom. In our annual summer visits, we'd swim and fish and occasionally canoe from this spot. One year, after our cousins had reached high-school age (and I was in college), they joined my sister and me on inner tubes for a float down a mile or two of the river, to a dam downstream where my dad picked us up.

Some 200 yards to the north of that main walking path is another opening in the trees where an older and wider path leads into forest before narrowing and, in places, becoming a more difficult route to the river. I'm not sure why the path to the south became the preferred route to the water. But it was on this less-used path that the neighbor from down the road, Bobby, and I took our sleds after that Easter snowstorm. We somehow managed to steer the plastic sleds through the trees, avoiding both the steep drop to the left in one section of the run and the larger trees that stand near the thoroughfare.

I'm not sure how, exactly, we emerged from this adventure without any serious injuries. It's certainly possible that, in my memory, we only felt like we were going much faster than in reality. However, I do recall one incident in which I couldn't quite correct a drift to the right, glancing off of a tree with my right shoulder as I was spun off the sled, coming to rest along the path. I laughed it off, though there was definitely a throbbing sensation at the point of impact. I wasn't injured, but it left me sore for a few days, I'm sure. At the time, I thought how I'd narrowly missed a more serious injury, one that could have derailed my certain-to-be successful baseball career. (Turns out that my lack of ability is what derailed that job opportunity.)

On another run, when I couldn't keep the sled from drifting to the left where the forest dropped off into a shallow gorge (but with a drop steep enough and the trees close enough that you wouldn't want to ride a sled down it), I bailed safely and watched the sled careen down the slope, banging into a dozen young trees, most no thicker than my forearm.

Those runs through the Maine woods were not unlike the short trips down Breeze Hill in Brooklyn. We didn't have to contend with any gravestones, but we had a lot more trees and a narrower opening along a much-longer run.

And we had just as much fun.

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