The joys of playing in the snow

Don’t tell my parents, but, as a teenager, I was in more car accidents than they know.

Almost all of those untold tales involve snow, and only one includes another car (they found out about that one). The kindness of strangers along Long Rapids Road saved me on more than one occasion. Black ice on winding roads is tricky, especially to an inexperienced driver like I was.

Winter driving destroyed my love of snow.

Before that, snow and ice were synonymous with fun. What else could you use to build forts, make footpath mazes, ski, and throw at friends all in an afternoon? Snow was nature’s LEGO, and my friends and I were its architects. I gained a fearless love for it. Even when my parents’ car once spun out on icy roads, my first reaction was to shout, “Let’s do that again!”

I cheered for snowstorms like they were race horses, and was frequently glued to the weather channel in anticipation of the next onslaught. A school closure was on the level of hearing your numbers come up in the lottery.

It was all about the snow. Each time the weather forecast changed, I wanted more of it.

My love of winter even helped with ice fishing. Not being a fan of fish, I initially dreaded going. Staring through the hole near my feet changed all that. It was mesmerizing, watching shards of ice dance around my line as I waited for a fish to bite. I find it difficult to sit still, but perching there in the ice shanty forced the world to slow down.

It was a great place to daydream and have a casual conversation or two with my father. In the end, I lost my balance and badly burned my right hand by instinctively grabbing the heater for support. Even so, I still remember the expedition fondly. It was a good day.

Like many things, snow lost its magic as I aged. Life now was more about work. Shoveling, heating bills, and having enough insulation in my attic were all frequent thoughts. Because of that, I stopped having fun in the snow.

Such fun was for children, and I was an adult. Snow and ice became something that only got in the way.

The worst was driving along I-94 during a bad year of snowstorms. Unable to take time off work, I traveled 75 miles daily to visit my preemie newborn son, who was in the Kalamazoo hospital’s NICU, and my still-recovering wife. It was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done.

Thankfully, my white-knuckled, caffeine-fuelled journeys did not include any accidents. I had learned from growing up in Alpena that you need to take your time with snow. I knew to be slow and steady. If I rushed, I’d only end up in a ditch. I had learned that lesson the hard way on Long Rapids Road years before.

Two winters in West Michigan, however, were enough.

Simply put, sleep deprivation, my natural clumsiness, a beginning teacher’s salary, and ice were not a good combination for my nerves. My thoughts were consumed with heating bills, medical insurance, and a rental house that wasn’t safe for a newborn.

I didn’t have the time or energy to enjoy the snow. Winter was only there to make my life more difficult. I retreated to England in defeat.

Contrary to what movies would have you believe, it doesn’t snow much in England. It may be quite a bit farther north than Alpena, but the ocean currents keep the winters generally warmer and decidedly wet. In Old English, the name for February is “Solmonath,” which roughly means “the month of mud.” Having lived here for a number of years, it is an incredibly accurate name.

Last year, we were lucky enough to have two inches of snow. That’s it. Those two whole inches fell in a couple of hours one weekend. Seizing the opportunity, I dragged the kids outside before it merged with the mud. We gathered all the snow we could find and built a single defensive wall barely as high as my knees, along with a tiny snowman. While not remotely as impressive as the constructions of my childhood, it marked a shift in my attitude towards snow.

I enjoyed it again.

That kind of pattern wasn’t limited to snow. Many things I enjoyed as a child I couldn’t as a young adult. They only recently became fun again.

Playing a musical instrument, swimming, painting, and visiting the library are all examples of that. I stopped doing them all. It was too easy to get caught up in the craziness of 24-hour news shows and life.

I’ve since learned that I have more control of my time than I thought I had. I now make sure to stop, find a good pair of gloves, and go play in the snow.

Matthew Pugh is a technical architect and software developer who was born and raised in Alpena. He now lives in Suffolk, England with his wife, Rowena, three kids, a cat, a dog, and a dangerous number of guinea pigs. He can be reached at pughmds@gmail.com.


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