The snow came down all day. This was an entirely different landscape than yesterday. Today's sky was heavy and dark with thickly falling snow, absorbing all sound with its thick blanket. This is my favorite winter landscape. After lunch, Claire, Tess, Chelsea, and Simon decided to go out for some sledding. They planned to head for the big hill next door. It would mean a very long walk across the thirty-five acre property next door, but the bigger hill would make it worthwhile. They were excited with the anticipation of an adventure as they bundled up. Sleds in tow, I snapped a picture of them as they left. Then, I bundled up myself and followed them; I was about fifteen minutes behind.
I was exhilarated when I first began walking across the field. I love the sound of snow. It's both eerily quiet yet constantly swishing as each flake hits the ground. It gives one the feeling of being very alone. All I could hear were my foot tromps and my breathing, just me and the elements. The snow was dry and fluffy, but still extremely difficult to maneuver because it was knee-deep. My natural inclination was to take high steps as though stepping over the snow. After some time I realized it was best to just plow through it. It was hard work and I was already winded when I reached the other side of the fence in the photo. I still had so far to go! I expected everyone to be at the first hill where we typically sled. As I passed the barn, the hill came into view but no one was there. I stopped and strained my ears to listen for their voices and all was silent. I stood still and used this opportunity to catch my breath while I gazed at the trail their footsteps left in the snow. I knew the trail would lead me to them, wherever they were, so I set off again, a little worried about how far that might be. I reasoned that I was already in it this far and turning back wasn't an option that I would allow myself. When I finally crested the first hill, I searched the landscape for any sign of the kids. Finally, I called out toward the next hill, "Are you guys there?" Silence. Where could they be? I called again and this time I heard a faraway, "Is that you, Mom?!". "Is it worth walking all that way?" I yelled. "We don't know!" came Claire's voice, "We haven't gone down yet!" Then Chelsea said, "Yes!" "Come on!" Encouraged, I continued on. I had to stop every eight or ten steps to catch my breath from all the body plowing I was doing. I would need to go down the other side of this hill, cross a ravine and then traverse diagonally up the other, larger hill. It was daunting. This deep snow was so hard to walk through. I scolded myself for being out of shape. I was warm and dry everywhere except my thighs. I had no snow pants so my jeans were wet. This portion of my body was exactly the part that came in contact with the snow as I plowed through it. Otherwise, I had dressed perfectly. Plodding onward, I began to worry about making this equal walk back home later. I knew the thrill of sledding would make this exertion all worth it. I just hoped I could get myself back without help later on.
I finally got close enough to see four shadowy figures above me at the top of the hill. Chelsea called down, "You're almost there! You can do it!" I yelled back, "I know you're just saying that because that's what you're supposed to say, but I'm NOT almost there so don't say that!!" She laughed at my annoyance. "C'mon Mom, you can do it!" she yelled again. I knew she was using "hiker" mentality on me and it just wasn't working. Those last ten yards up that hill were the hardest. I finally drew near to the clump of shadowy, snowy figures and I threw my sled down. I collapsed on top of it to rest. My legs were soaked and freezing and I hadn't even gone sledding yet, but I made it! The view from the hill was extraordinarily beautiful. It wasn't a long view, we couldn't see the mountains, but the snow covered cedars and tree lines were simply as beautiful as nature can be. I preferred this quiet, soft world of gray and white over the blinding sun we had yesterday.
I'll never forget Tess' first comment to me after I sat down. She said I looked pretty. Dear, sweet Tess. My face was damp with snow and red from the cold and I know my hair was sticking straight up out of that headband. I was wearing a mishmash of clothing; Steve's ski jacket, Audrey's barn gloves, my thirty year-old LL Bean boots, Chelsea's old neck gator, and a knit headband someone made for me back in the 90's. But she told me the snowflakes on my eyebrows made me look pretty and I believed her. I loved that we were all together, sharing this experience.
It takes two or three initial runs down a hill to pack the snow enough to make further runs more enjoyable. Those first runs are slow and the sled bogs down in the deep snow. It also results in face-fulls of snow for the trailblazers. The kids had already finished these by the time I had my turn down. Still, I veered off the path near the bottom and tumbled into very deep snow. Laughing and brushing myself off, I huffed up the hill to do it again. I don't remember how many times I rode down, but it wasn't many. My wet jeans were frozen on my thighs and I regretted not layering my leg clothing. For this reason, I was going to have to go home too soon. The rest of the gang decided to try another hill, so I set off alone toward home. Claire also decided to head back back home so she followed about twenty yards behind me.
The walk back wasn't as lonely with Claire following me. However, I was still alone with my thoughts. All the way home, I pondered the early settlers and explorers lives. How ever did folks thrive in this weather with only the crudest essentials? Arctic explorers enduring months and even years on ice or in deep snow with none of the current, high tech gear must have suffered terribly. Even with new gear this type of climate is unforgiving. I thought of the Donner expedition and their will to survive. I also thought of people who sit down without the strength to ever rise up again. I wondered what my fate would have been in such circumstances.
My last thoughts as I crossed the horse field and entered the basement stairwell was how ever was I going to get out of the wet jeans that were plastered to my legs. It was not going to be easy. Later, dressed in dry clothing and sitting in a comfortable chair, I felt thankful to be able to enjoy winter as I did today. I had a chance to relive childhood sledding, feel snowflakes on my eyelashes, and witness the serenity of a deep, falling snow. Winters like this only happen every few years in our Virginia experience. We need to seize the opportunity to enjoy them while we can. Claire made a comment
about "epic sledding" in her Facebook post today. She got that right.
The last three kids returning. (Chelsea is lying in the middle.) The weather cleared for a bit and the sledding hill is at the far back in the photo.