Long hair in a half up pony. 17º chill in the air. A turn of the key locks the black ’96 Land Cruiser, a trusted companion. Boots crunching in the snow I walk my Flexible Flyer runner sled, a gift on my 5th birthday, maybe the greatest I’ve ever received across the park. It’s been dark for over an hour and the crowd that played on the hill while I worked through the day is thinning. They’ve done the good deed of packing the snow to make for fast runnings.
A small group of college-ish types take turns pushing each other down the hill in a white plastic laundry basket. Making the best of what they have to celebrate this frosty winter gift. This night they have companionship, camaraderie, and a memory that will replay each time the have to wash their clothes. Nice! Parents stand at the top of the hill as their children ride plastic toboggans, saucers, sheets of cardboard, etc.. “One more son, my toes are frozen. Time to go.”
As I walk by I sense accessing eyes. A few years ago I came to this same place with my boys. Now they are grown and off on their own adventures. My former snow play partners have girlfriends and/or social engagements, and so I revel in this winter sport opportunity alone.
I find my way to the highest point on the hill and set the sled to run. If I aim just so I can hit a bridge that offers safe passage across the creek at the bottom of the slope. If I miss it’s a three foot drop over a limestone ledge into a partially frozen stream riddled with sharp rocks. Holding my old friend by the left handle and the right rail I push off in a sprint and dive on.
I spent 3-4 hours last weekend refurbishing runner sleds.I have a bit of a fascination with these playthings. Over the years I’ve accumulated five of them. The first one I received for my fifth birthday, a 1966 Flexible Flyer.Another belonged to my maternal grandpa, dated 1906.The third I found in the shed of the house my sons and I moved into once we were finally able to move out of our one-bedroom apartment. I stumbled upon the last two in a pawn shop on Nolensville Road here in Nashville, Tennessee.If You aren’t familiar with Nolensville Road, it is rife with pawn shops, paycheck advance loan joints, and delightful Mexican restaurants.In addition to the family of runner sleds, I am in possession of one ridiculously long wooden toboggan, the sled, not the hat…and when the hell did we give birth to that term for a ski cap? But I digress.Why this winter snow and sled proclivity?I’m guessing it is a subconscious reaction to growing up in alway sunny southern California.
Yes, I now live in Nashville, Tennessee.No, we don’t get a lot of snow these days, though we used to. In the early nineteen something-or-others, we had such a winter here in middle Tennessee that the Cumberland River froze over.The mighty waterway that splits our fair city turned solid to the point where one could drive a car across it.Global warming…politics/science aside, I refurbish the sleds in the hope that we will have at least a day or two this winter to run them.
Peter Pan would have liked sledding.Not the pop psychology Peter Pan, the immature fop that many equate with the “not willing to work” type.From what I’ve read the real Pete fought valiantly for what he valued.He worked to be free and shared the fruits of his indefatigable labors with the lost boys.Courage, rather than immaturity may be a more suitable way to define Mr. Pan.Do what we have to do to protect what we love, right?
As it relates to surviving the aging process in modern times, what about blinders?Some of those who are not familiar with the term “horseless carriage” may also be perplexed by the term “blinders.”Blinders where created to be worn by horses as they pulled carriages through busy streets, often more like mud troughs, of bustling turn of the century cities.They were designed to protect the beasts from overstimulation.Blinders, therefore, aren’t intended to create a state of blindness, rather they are intended to facilitate focus.I think we can all give a nod to the value of focus, yes?Focus is the rail on which we are able to forge momentum.It is the way we get from standing still to lightspeed.Growing up is one thing, acting the role of a “grown-up” is another.Focus is most likely about creating a life that matters, whether it fits a societally accepted norm or not.
Some people loved sledding when they were children.Some people did not.Some who did appreciate the sport lost that love as the grew up.Others did not; (Sidebar, I realize my fixation with riding sleds is absurd).Deconstructed, the act of sliding down a hill on a fast-moving vehicle has no scientifically significant value.You can’t necessarily become spiritually whole, the richest man in the world, or the president of the United States by sledding down an icy hill…or can you?Olympic bobsledders may win gold medals then return to their day jobs at HomeDepot.Are they the better for it?Probably.Have they become the Dalai Lama?Eh!
Sleds aside, what do we gain from our adult choices; from putting aside childish things?Do we gain Money?Security?Power?Freedom…Whatever the fuck that means?Most likely yes.What do we lose in exchange?The process of maturing is exciting, confusing, intoxicating most often inevitable.It can bring great things, but at what cost?Do we have to surrender our child-like wonder in order to survive as adults?If we do in fact, have to sacrifice our childhood consciousness to become grown-ups what language will we use to communicate with children?If not their’s then who’s?
Peter Pan was written by James Matthew Barrie in 1904.He saw struggling children in need of relief, and so created a fantasy world based on his hopes for their emotional survival, or so I surmise.He crafted a surreal safe harbor for humans faced with the reality of aging.It was to be his most celebrated work.It overshadowed all others in his career.Curios that a story so well received at the time of its creation has been reduced to a term used to define those who refuse to conform to rather rigidly defined acceptable forms of “adulthood” in modern times.
Back to sled riding for a sec, and for those without snow in there lives please substitute an appropriate metaphor. If at times we feel stuck, sad, discontented, hopeless or just bored, perhaps a swift ride on a polished set of steel runners could be the perfect emotional reset.If everything is just fine, all is right with the world, would it not be still be a hoot to make time to feel the rush of plummeting down a snowy hill, just to see where it takes us; feeling the wind blow through our hair as we descend a slope of memories long left behind.Why the hell not?
Freedom, heaven, hell, sorrow, joy, regret, redemption; they live within all of us. On good days we get to choose which of them we will invite for a play date. I find that when the long nights of winter begin to weigh on me the ensuing darkness can be parted by pushing off hard and diving onto my ’66 Flyer for an icy glide. Sometimes it’s the simple things, often even “childish things” that make the world brighter, better, and for at least a rare moment, timeless.