Last week’s snow had us all breaking out winter gear we hadn’t worn in quite a while, and gave us a moment to reflect on how we dealt with the white stuff in days of old.
I can’t recall a whole lot of actual winter gear. Sure, most of us had a heavy coat reserved for the colder weather, but as far as items exclusively meant to cope with snow, I don’t recall much. There was mink oil for the boots, and …
Actually, mink oil is about all I can recall. On occasion, someone would remember a tip from a Battle of the Bulge veteran and wrap a newspaper sheet around their torso to retain heat, and on other occasions a few of us would experiment with wearing plastic bread bags on the inside or outside of our boots.
Aside from that, playing in snow usually meant putting on two pair of jeans instead of one, a pair of gloves and a toboggan (the cap, not the sled. That would look stupid. Fashion-wise, it would also clash with the bread bags).
These plans worked well until contact with actual snow.
Paper towels are generally made of paper, but you can buy high-test versions that contain a fabric weave, often made of cotton.
Jeans are made of denim.
Denim is made or cotton.
Ergo, we wore child-sized paper towel rolls, out there doggedly soaking up snowmelt. As to the bread bags on the feet, there’s a reason bread bags are designed to hold bread, not feet. One stick or rock and the bags had the integrity of Swiss cheese, although they tended to still hold in freezing water to a remarkable degree.
In short order, you’d be packing an extra 30 pounds, muscle responses hindered by the extra weight and the fact directions from the brain quit reaching the legs due to the fact the receptors were frozen over. In our minds we were frolicking, but I suspect a witness from a nearby ridge might’ve thought he was witnessing the result of a nerve gas test.
But it didn’t matter. There was snow, and snow was glorious. It cushioned your fall, held all sorts of possibilities for recreation, and most importantly, got us out of school.
Snow could do no wrong.
Early on, Daddy would whip together sleds for us with scrap lumber, but eventually somebody figured out that an inner tube made an ideal sled – faster, bouncier, devoid of fancy extras like steering.
We also figured out that if you were to go pack down a fresh snowfall as darkness fell, you would awaken to a frozen run capable of accelerating an innertube like something shot out of a cannon.
Therein lies a tale.
I’m going to go short on details regarding this story, for reasons that will become clear.
We had established a frozen run on a steep hillside a way from East Fork Creek, and I took it upon myself to give it a test run.
After shooting down the run, under a couple of grazing cattle a good 30 yards from the place the run ended, under a fence and into the aforementioned creek, my colleagues began questioning the wisdom of shooting down a luge run with no steering or brakes, a plan was devised: Somebody would station themselves at the bottom of the run braced against the ground and using another innertube as an improvised brake, sort of like the arresting cable they use on aircraft carriers to keep landing planes from shooting off the deck.
If I recall correctly, I was the somebody who agreed to serve as a makeshift brake.
An innertube shot down the hill, its occupant immediately requesting I stop him via screams of encouragement.
I’m proud to say the plan worked brilliantly. When innertube contacted innertube, the inbound tube stopped immediately.
Physics being what it is, its occupant did not; I’m pretty sure he actually increased speed.
He had come down face-first, whereas I was facing uphill bracing the tube, and I’m told the ensuing collision rang through the valley. “It was just like them Bighorn sheep butting heads,” one witness said, adding that Bighorn do not in fact “drop like a sack of doorknobs” as a result of the exercise.
I cleared my head and, having witnessed the danger of the sled route, we all went right back to tubing, opting to roll off the tubes to grab the barbed wire fence before we shot into the creek.
Jim Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.