Sledding alone on the farm – for now

A big Midwestern snowfall seemed too good not to share.

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    SNOWBALL FIGHT: When a deep snowfall resulted in canceled classes at Indiana University recently, students headed out for some fun on the Bloomington, Ind., campus.
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The snows that fell in a deep muffling swath across the country in late January did not, for once, miss us here in south-central Indiana. So often we seem to exist in a clear little pod of tranquility between major winter weather systems – good news for many with miles to go and agendas to keep, but a disappointment for those of us who work at home and revel in a real winter.

Ah, but this time Bloomington was a bull's-eye, getting more of the white stuff than anyone had predicted.

At first, upon waking to 12 inches of powder, I was too stunned to do more than wade dazzled, as if into a parting sea, to feed the cows who were up past their knees in it. Then I seized the day, trooping to the sugaring cabin on the hilltop above the stream to pull a dusty toboggan from under the porch.

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Charlie was into his bookbinding in the farmhouse. Over the past year, age and time have claimed two of the dogs who had always accompanied me on walks and the rare midwinter sledding run. That left Omaha, our half-grown joyous pup, reveling wildly in my white wake as I sailed down the hill. After the third run I decided that the slope and its clean surface was somewhat wasted on the two of us; we were barely making a dent in the powder. Besides, covered with snow, the pup and I had slowed considerably on the ascent. At least we'd left a few tracks for others to follow. Back in the farmhouse, I sent an e-mail to multiple friends with and without children, a simple subject line with no accompanying message: "Beautiful sledding on farm."

Winnie, up the road, clearly expecting a message below the header, replied "This was blank, Sue. Is it the white of the snow?" I answered back, explaining how lovely it was to lose myself to gravity on a hill for a few heady moments evocative of childhood – even if alone. "Sledding" she offered, "is a great analogy for so many things that we alone experience, whether there are many around us or none."

"None" seemed to be the case for the day. Most of the kids of yesteryear who'd arrived bundled with sleds in tow after a decent storm like this one are, like my own son, adults now. My 2-year-old grandson isn't yet ready for a sizable hill roughened by cow paths and a frozen-over stream – though I briefly considered testing his mettle. Several local families with older children have moved away in past years. Ironically, I felt as I had one summer, when rains finally came after a long drought and neither Charlie nor I had poised the water basin below the cabin roof to catch it – unable to fully tap the rarest of resources.

Then an hour before dusk, a veritable tribe of boisterous teens descended, trooping down the drive toward the pasture gate equipped with all manner of sleds and gear. Mark, a local boy we'd known since his infancy, led the pack. Just into dinner preparations I thought for only a moment of joining them, then waved them on their way. It was enough to know that a fresh group of enthusiasts was grabbing the brass ring winter offered in all its blind challenge and grace. They straggled by again, white and replete with their exertions as darkness descended, signaling thanks and goodbyes through the light-filled windows.

Over the next few days Omaha and I will be back on that hill, with many or none, doing our part to pack the powder – as if to honor and hold winter in place another day.

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