Standing Up for the Season Of Shivers and Shorter Days

WHEN winter begins there are some people who stop smiling. They look so glum you'd think their faces have been glued.

Oh, they love summer, with all the back-baking sunshine, and the trees overcrowded with leaves, and the smell of barbecues, and playing outdoor games until nearly midnight when it's so light and warm.

And oh, they love spring, with everything suddenly growing like crazy, tiny plants shooting up out of the earth as if they're popcorn dancing on a griddle, and the larch trees looking fresh, and the snowplows steered into a corner to be forgotten about until next winter, and apple blossom.

And oh, oh, oh, they love the fall. Pumpkins. Fresh apples, incredibly juicy. Halloween. And the mad color all the trees become: crimson, blood red, orange, butter yellow, lemon yellow, you name it.

But winter - that's different. They hate the cold, the wet, the slush, the sleet, traffic holdups, skidding, and slipping. All they want to do is hibernate like hedgehogs, to sleep and wake up again, like some dopey princess waiting for some soppy prince to drop by and give her a kiss - when the weather gets better. Winter is just one big nuisance to such people.

But not to you, of course. And not to me. You and I love the snow and everything we can do in it. Apart from that magical white stuff (though perhaps you, like me, live somewhere where you don't have a lot of snow?) there are a whole bunch of things that are also special about winter that make it just as good as spring, summer, and autumn.

Take the short days. Dark by four in the afternoon. The word "cozy" was invented just for this: Now's the time to find the biggest and most comfortable armchair to curl up in like a cat, and read a fat book. If there's a log fire as well, spitting, glowing, and crackling somewhere near your toes, so much the better.

There is also something special about the street lights on a winter evening. And, in the country, the sight of farmhouse windows across the fields, dotted by small squares of warm light.

If you don't have full-blown snow, then frosts are wonderful in their own way. Everything - every blade of grass, and every twig, has frozen white bristles, like an old man's unshaven whiskers. You breathe clouds of mist, and half imagine an icicle about to form on the tip of your nose.

Icicles hanging from gutters or mounding up under outside faucets are fascinating, like cone-shaped stalactites and stalagmites in caves deep underground. The faucet needs only to have a tiny drip and an icicle will form overnight. Water turned into a solid waterfall!

When I was a kid, we used to stage mock sword fights with icicles - they'd smash into fragments before things got dangerous - and we'd see who could find and break off the longest icicle. We were always disappointed when the icicles started to melt.

Of course you can go skating in an indoor rink any time of year. But if you haven't ever skated in the open air, you haven't lived! You must be sure at first, of course, that the ice outdoors on a pond or lake is absolutely safe. In my country this seems to happen only about once every 10 years.

I remember one winter when the canals and rivers near my house did freeze over. I didn't have any skates of my own. But I dug out an ancient pair that one of my older brothers had abandoned in the attic. Several of us went down to the canal.

The great thing about canals is that they can't be skated on round and round: You follow them like driving along a road - but a road going you have no idea where! It's an adventure. You travel under brick bridges, past the foot of private gardens, and along meadows.

At one point along our path, the overgrown bushes had narrowed the canal down so much that we could only just brush through. This was an old canal, no longer in use for barges moving coal or grain. So to skate along it in the freezing air was like exploring territory long ago forgotten by man and beast.

And don't think you have to be a good skater! As long as you can more or less stand up, and push your feet sideways and forwards at the same time (but not both feet at the same time), you'll make progress and have a wonderful time of it. I'm a hopeless skater, so I know what I'm talking about. But there is something about trying to do it - like learning to ride a bicycle or to swim - that makes you want to keep on keeping on....

And after a while, you begin to think you are the greatest skater the world has ever known! One foot hisses over the bumpy ice, then the other, this one, then that one.... The wind whistles faster and faster past your ears, people crowd along the banks clapping and yelling, urging you on, the theme music from "Rocky" sounds out heroically from behind a passing bush - the bushes now mere blurs speeding past - slide, slide, slide, slide....

All the other skaters are left miles behind, specks on the horizon - and, now, in the approaching distance ahead you make out the finish line and the thousands who have waited since dawn to see you win. The balloons go up, the band strikes up a victory march, and you fling yourself over the line and sink exhausted but triumphant on the red carpet. Around you the autograph hunters mill, the videos whirr, the press offers you blank checks for your life story....

The fact that all you have actually done is streak in a wibbly-wobbly line a few hundred yards down an old canal, with no more audience than a shivering horse and a blackbird or two, isn't the point. And anyway, who's to know? 'Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can findstories that will tickle imagin-ations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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