Sunday, January 23, 2011

Skating Away from the Edge

It's snowing as I type this morning, and it's pretty to watch—big fluffy flakes floating against a backdrop of leafless black trees. It resurfaces the pathways and roads that have been dirtied by traffic. It also refreshes the cross country ski trails that take advantage of the rolling hills that characterize the geology of northeast Missouri. On the other hand, it's not good news for the hockey games that folks enjoy on our frozen pond. It's the yin and yang of winter sports on the farmstead: snow is good for skiing and bad for skating; no snow is good news the other way around.

The heart of winter occurs from Christmas to Valentine's Day. While we can get a thaw any time, it's only during those seven weeks that you can expect skiing or skating conditions. We're in the midst of that stretch right now, and the skis get used almost every day at Sandhill. Through the steady ministrations of dedicated shovellers, our impromptu hockey rink has been cleared sufficiently after each snowfall to allow the games to continue there as well.

Both skiing and skating are a terrific antidote to the seduction of vegetating through the slow winter season, sitting on the sofa next to the wood stove knitting or reading until it's time to start collecting maple sap in February.

Of course, there's also wood cutting, which is another time-honored outdoor aerobic opportunity on the farmstead in winter. In addition to gathering next year's firewood, we're collecting oak logs for shiitake propagation, cutting black locust for the structural elements of a post-and-beam house going up at Dancing Rabbit, and setting aside the occasional saw log (to eventually become dimensional lumber for home projects).

This year, I notice that I'm taking my turns running the chain saw in the wood lot, but I'm not skating. I was never very adept at it, and the pleasure of gliding along the ice or the enjoyment derived from correctly calculating the physics of passing a hockey puck from one moving skater to another no longer compensates for cramped insteps and bruised thighs.

I grew in the suburbs of Chicago where there were winters reliably cold enough for me to have grown up skating, but I didn't. Neither did I pick up roller skating as a kid. While I gamely tried to make up for my lost youth as an adult, I never got very accomplished at either, and decided to retire from these particular recreational efforts after falling badly at the roller rink a few years ago and suffering multicolored bruising that took more than a week to heal. Falling down just isn't that much fun.

While there's a part of me that rebels at the thought of "getting too old" for anything, I'm mostly at peace with the realization that there are many more interesting choices out there than I'll ever get to taste, and it's OK to let some challenges slip by uncontested (I don't reckon I'll ever learn Farsi, how to do an appendectomy, or the art of trading pork bellies futures). There's nuance between being too scared to attempt the unknown, and not being reckless. It's about developing a healthy relationship with the edge.

Sometimes, it's fine to simply enjoy watching the snow fall from the comfort of a warm chair, and to reflect at my laptop on all that that brings up.

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