Sunday, January 6, 2013


Surprise, surprise! A blog post. Really.

Right before Christmas, it snowed for the first time this season. We got roughly five inches, enough to lay a pretty blanket of white on the ground and to make the holidays seem pretty and bright. 

It was also enough to make sledding a go. The day after it snowed, a Friday as I recall, Uncle Matt came over, and he and I took the boys out in search of a hill. I knew about one definitive sledding hill; when Michelle and I were scouting towns in which to live last summer, we noticed that Mount Vernon reserved one street for sledding. We knew this, because at the top of the street (and the top of the hill) there was a gate that would close off the street to vehicles. Down the street there were other gates along the side streets to keep vehicles from crossing the sledding hill-street. To clinch it all, there also was a sign that laid out the sledding hours and rules.

A street that is turned into a sledding hill. We thought that was pretty cool.

Back to the story: So, I knew about the street sledding hill. But a neighbor who grew up in Mt Vernon told me that a lot of bigger children use that hill, and, considering our boys are just 4 and 2, respectively, I was concerned they might get overrun. So, we all tromped over to Cornell College, its campus located on a hill, to find a spot.

Surprisingly, despite many slopes, it was hard to find a good sledding place. The college is pretty densely packed, and many of the hills led into a street, or parking lot, or there were a bunch of trees. Eventually, Matt, the boys, and I found a decent slope, and we got to it. We just had to be careful to make sure we stopped ourselves before we hit a concrete wall, and we had to avoid steering too far to the right, so we wouldn't go careening over a six-foot drop into a parking lot. Not ideal, but we made the best of it, and most importantly the boys had a good time.

Still, the street sledding hill was in the back of my mind as I decided to take the boys sledding the following weekend. I must admit that I was curious about the hill. Just passing by it as we walked by the street on our way downtown, and back, I knew it was a good sledding hill. At the top was a nice crown that after several feet, became a steep descent that went about the length of a block. Then the street, leveled off gradually. In all, if you could get good momentum and stay on course, it appeared you could go for 6 to 7 blocks. That's a doggone good run.

Knowing all this, I couldn't resist the temptation any longer. I packed the boys in a tow wagon, and we headed toward the street sledding hill. To my surprise, there were only a smattering of people there – a lady and two youngish children and a dad with a pair of youngsters. I felt better about our decision immediately. But what next? I couldn't leave 2-year-old Isaiah at the top of the hill himself, so I needed to figure out how we'd all go down together. We had two sleds, a rectangular toboggan and a plastic saucer. I tried all three of us on the toboggan. We lurched forward, then quickly veered leftward. Before I knew it, we careened onto the bank, our sled flew out from under us, and we all tumbled out onto the snow. 

Isaiah wasn't thrilled about our spill. So, that was the end of the three-person toboggan. My next idea was to put the boys into the toboggan, and to follow them in the saucer, while holding onto their sled. This actually worked better than expected: We slid down the hill, and we got some good velocity. The trouble was we had no way to control ourselves. Inevitably, the boys' toboggan would get turned around, or mine, or both. While thrilling, it also introduced the element of danger, of running into a tree or spilling over the side of the course. Still, it was the best we could do, and it all went just fine until the last run.

It all started out fine. The boys leading on the toboggan, me following on the saucer, one hand clasped to the boys' sled. Partway down, the boys turned backward, and the rope got tangled under their sled. I tried to yank the rope out as I was turning backward. We kept skidding down the hill, now on the steep part, both of us facing backward. Now, we were moving right, toward the side of the street. I glanced behind me, made a quick check of our location, and turned my attention back to trying to turn the boys' sled into the forward position. Bam! My lower back smacked into a signpost, thinly covered by an orange vest. The boys had tumbled off their sled and were looking at me. I was so shocked I just sat there and laughed. 

Isaiah didn't think it was funny. He was pretty traumatized. And, once I got up, I wasn't laughing either.   I walked gingerly, hunched over, as we trudged home.

The thing about sledding, though, is once you start doing it, despite the hazards and spills, you don't want to stop. So, a couple of weekends later, we were back out there, this time accompanied by Michelle. We've been in a deep freeze, with nighttime temperatures often in the single digits. The hill, with all its use and the freezing weather, had gotten quite icy. It was so slick in spots that you could slide down it on your stomach. Still, we were there; shouldn't we do it?

Well, we did. And it was great. It was great, because I figured how to guide the toboggan, meaning I could "steer" it down the hill, keep it in the middle of the course and give us a nice, long ride all the way to the bottom. Let me tell you, it was awesome. Fast, zippy, wind-in-your-face, hair-raising ride. Even better, the boys loved it, too.

Can't wait to get out there again.


Ann Johnson said...

Hi Richard, I just finished writing a review of Rick Zednik's new book and that led me to look at where you, Dan and Eric were. It sounds like you have a great job and your hands are completely full helping raise lively children. I have two grandchildren in DC, 3 3/4 and 3 mos. so I know what lively is. Also two in CA. Every time I drove through Providence, I wondered if you were still there, and now I know where you are. Don't worry - I won't be driving through Iowa any time soon! I still remember good times at the Spectator office.
Ann Johnson

Richard Lewis said...

Thanks so much for getting in touch. We moved to Iowa last spring and are just settling in for the most part. You, of course, are welcome anytime you find yourself in Iowa!