When I was young, I took direction about how to approach winter from the Olympics and a dad with a devil-may-care streak. My goal in downhill skiing and ice skating and sledding was to go as fast as I possibly could, to fearlessly conquer the elements with maximum intensity. Mom lived with some trepidation and a constant warning to be careful. Dad egged me on. He found some of the biggest hills in Pittsburgh's suburbs for my flights on an old-fashioned wooden sleds with sharp steel runners.
I remember hitting a snow embankment so hard at the end of one of those runs that I blacked out briefly. I instinctively knew not to tell that to mom about the potential brain injury but to stand up as quickly as I could like a brave player walking off the field and waving to the relieved adults.
Now that I'm, gulp, middle aged, my sense of adventure has changed. Although it's mostly due to the cost and time involved, I’ve pretty much forgone the downhill skiing of my youth. Now you're much more likely to find me cross-country skiing at a local golf course on the old equipment I picked up at a garage sale 15 years ago. Sure, I still get inspired by the Olympics. When the American redhead snowboarder named the flying tomato Shaun White soared around the long concave snowy half-pipes on several years ago, I rented a board myself and took a lesson. I couldn’t wait to tell dad about it. Even if I mostly ended up content to sit on it sideways and edge slowly down the base of a bunny hill.
My primary snow sport now is walking--and believe me this is a sport in certain places. I don’t own a car-- so I occasionally find myself hiking unmaintained bridges and trails in the worst snowfalls and frozen remnants of storms. I like to think I’m living in solidarity with the less fortunate and being environmentally sensitive, and in a way I am, but the truth is, this is fun for me. The other day after walking up a perilously iced-over set of steps to a bridge in Pittsburgh, I warned everyone coming the other way and we all commiserated and laughed over how bad it was. And wished each other a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. This past week I walked a trail along the river that was exceptionally icy in parts. It was clear it would take a while for me to get the office so I stopped to text my boss. She offered to pick me up. She’s a mom. But I chose to walk the rest of the way, despite the fact that my bones are more brittle than they once were. It was a great walk. And I have dad and the Olympics to thank for it. After all, I never got hurt despite my predilection for speed and recklessness. Must be my guardian snow angel.