Thankful

Colorado got smacked by the icy hand of Winter this week.  Well, most of Colorado anyway, the town where I live got just enough snow to suck.  But I did have a snowday from work on what is perhaps the most pointless week of the year.  Thanksgiving.

At a University, which is where I work my day job, Thanksgiving is a week with two days of classes and the majority of offices being down to a skeleton crew because everyone just doubles down with the time off so they can get a whole week off where nobody actually does any work anyway.

Why didn’t I take off any time?  Because I had pneumonia all through September, and I’m running low on days off.  It’s not a bad week to be at my desk.  Like I said, it’s usually pretty quiet anyway, unless other bored workers come in to visit with anyone who happens to be in the office.  Granted, today, I have been working my butt off.  This is a busy time of year for me, but eventually you hit a choke point where the other people you need to work with to get jobs completed are out on vacation.

So I’m off on vacation. Involuntarily. And sitting at my desk.  Also involuntarily.

This week, I’m driving up to visit my parents in the cold and frozen Rocky Mountains.  I don’t relish my visits there in the Wintertime. The scenery is strikingly beautiful, with mountains newly glazed in crisp, stark, white ice and snow.  And not much else to do up there.  I’ll probably be helping my dad replace the fuel pump in my stupid jeep.  Just the other day, I rolled down the window to order some coffee and the button crumbled when I tried to roll it back up again.  $150 later, I wondered what price would be too high to pay to make sure the windows went back up when a 6-10″ blizzard was on its way.  Apparently $150 wasn’t the limit.

It’s cold up there, and I don’t miss it.  The winter generally starts in October and often holds on until late May.  This year, it finally stopped snowing at the end of June.  The town has changed and hardly anyone I knew up there remains, or we have lost touch.  Seeing my folks and letting my son get to know them is important, but generally once the snows start I don’t want to be up there.  Too many winters of being snowed in for days on end with only a tiny grocery store full of overpriced food to supply the town.  The bitter cold wind coming out of the North, howling like some demonic wolf from Hell, sculpting miles of snow in all directions into non-euclidean forms.  A town at the nexus of highways that lead to other places.

But I am trying to be Thankful.  It’s a time of year we are supposed to count our blessings, but today, I’ve been in a funk and I’m not feeling it.  I think of next year and about how I would love to switch it up.  I want to fly somewhere and spend Thanksgiving on a beach, watching the waves roll in one after the other, messing with sea creatures in tide pools, fruity beverages at poolside.

Work has been difficult this year.  There were layoffs in March and now there is grumbling that “we need to do more, because cuts are coming.”  The economy is the best it has been in decades, except at my University, where upper administrators used this place as their personal piggybank and rampant overspending left us lifers with “doing more” to fix the problem.

I don’t know if I’ll be on that beach next Thanksgiving.  Honestly, I don’t know where I’ll be.  I do know that I have both of my parents, and my son is getting to know them and love them.  I’ll take the cold and miserable wind and snow as long as he gets that.  My mom’s gallbladder was gangrenous back in August.  A few more days of shitty doctor diagnoses and “wait and see” and she might not be here this year.  Last year, I was losing sleep, feeling lonely and rejected, poor, overwhelmed.  I was getting sick from exhaustion, which went into my lungs.  Depression.  This year, I just don’t like snow.

I’m thankful for that too.

I met a wonderful woman in June, (1945ish) who really, truly gets me and most days I hope I get her.  She has reminded me of how good things can be and what it feels like to really be appreciated; I can only hope I return the favor.  I get to spend the afternoon playing video games with my son, high-fiving or taunting each other, I get coffee regularly and visit with the kids who work there who always brighten my day.  I have my health.  I have hope.  I have my faith.  I am much better off today than I’ve been in years.  I have traveled on my own and learned so much about myself.  I have reached a point where I have become comfortable in my own skin, met challenges with aplomb and did exactly what I said I was going to do, though it might have been twenty years too late.  I have hit rock bottom and lived to tell the tale.

I have been writing.  Lots.  I have smoked cigars, enjoyed good whiskey, and laughed until my ribs have hurt and my jaw ached from smiling. I have taken the waters at Bath and soaked my bones in Glenwood Springs.  I have lost some people along the way. Some of them might be back, and others are probably gone for good. Some of them thankfully so. I try not to get too worked up about any of it.  Good boundaries allow good people to come into your life and bad ones to show themselves out.  I’ve read a lot of books on  Boundaries too.  I’ve done a lot of healing and a lot of reflection.

If the most irritating thing in my life right now is some snow and a car that insists on new parts every time I turn around, things aren’t too bad.  They’ve been much worse.  I’m thankful I don’t have much to complain about, and grateful that I still get to complain and people will listen. I’m thankful my dad is willing to help keep my Jeep on the road with his mechanical expertise.

I’m thankful my son still sleeps with his stuffed animals and doesn’t ask for too much from Santa.  He’s a good kid with more kindness and compassion in his heart than most people will ever know.   I learn things from him every day.

It’s things like that which will warm your heart more than a summer afternoon, and brighten your day more than a sunset on the beach.  Winter sucks, but I have faced worse.  There have been perfect days that fell flat and left me feeling hollow and alone, and there are miserable days with snow flying in the air where I have laughed about silly things until I had tears in my eyes.

These are the things I am thankful for.

 

The Sledding Hill

Growing up in a small mountain town in Colorado spoiled me.  There were some things that weren’t all that great.  Some winters were very hard, with any of four roads in and out of the county either getting snowed in or buried in avalanche at any given time.  The good part was that when we got snowed it, it just slowed life down a little bit.  We either hunkered down and conserved our resources for a few days, or we took advantage of what we had on hand.  Only on the coldest days or windiest nights were we discouraged.  There is something about hearing that cold, howling wind blow against the side of your house for months on end that begins to eat at you.  Some don’t come back from that. sledding3

Today, I can look outside my window and see green grass emerging from the brown of dormant lawns.  In just a few weeks, the first leaves of Spring will be sprouting on the trees.  The rains will come, bringing with them the rumbling crescendo of thunder.  The soft patter on the roof as you lie in bed, as the streets will be slick and shiny, clean once again after the salt and sand of a pathetic Front Range winter.  In the Front Range, it feels like we get four seasons.  Winter is a periodic event, with only a few major storms leaving much accumulation.  School is canceled for the kids upon the anticipation of a blizzard.  I have only seen two or three in twenty years that would count as such in my book.  A few days of the jet stream dipping down from Canada in December might be enough to put the mercury down to -20 or -30, but I remember days when as a kid, we sat in our classrooms, in our coats and snowpants, huddled around space heaters because the boiler had frozen.

Sometimes that wind would drift the roads over and kids out on the ranches would have to bunk with us townsfolk for a day or two, until the rotary plows cut new paths through the drifts.  Even efforts to use industrial espionage to sabotage the possibility of school went unheeded, when some students unplugged the engine heaters on the school buses the night before a cold snap.  The buses started late that morning and school went on as scheduled.

On days when it was so cold that even gasoline cars wouldn’t start, we headed to the local ice skating rink, a vacant lot that the Town would flood with a hydrant and we would skate on all day and sometimes well into the night.  Broken telephone poles were our benches.  A streetlight provided enough light to see after the sun went down.  Shovels and a plow on wheels were left for anyone wanting to be their own Zamboni when the snow fell.

Outside of town, if you had the right toys, you could go snowmobiling. When I was older, I went cross-country skiing. Very few of my friends were skiers.  Even downhill.  For the most part, we were a poor town, and in spite of our snows and mountains, it was an hour drive to the nearest slopes.  Instead there was ice-fishing, sometimes dog-sled racing, and for kids like me you could build snow forts in your front yard that would last until March.

snow
November 2017, Walden CO

My kids struggle with the school allowing recess.  Then there is the matter of safety.  Children are treated as fragile little eggs, and part of me thinks this is sweet because adults don’t want the kids to be hurt, but in reality it probably has more to do with litigation and insurance premiums than kissing boo-boos and wiping away crocodile tears for skinned knees.

I’ll spare you more of the walking to school uphill in three feet of snow stories (even though they are true).  When I was a kid, our recess was three times a day of sliding down a 100 yard hill at 30 mph on a thin sheet of plastic.  Sometimes we rode on our butts.  Sometimes we flew down the hill face first.  Once we got to the football field at the bottom, we ran all the way back up and did it again.  As a kid, in the winter, I probably ran up that sledding hill forty times a day or more.  There was the sting of icy powder on your skin, the teeth rattling impact of going over jumps we had made from packed snow, which turned to ice from the friction of hundreds of passes every day. There were glorious impacts, collisions with other sledders, a game where the elementary kids tried to take out high school kids as they walked up the hill to the lunch room, and enough concussions to make a sports medicine researcher giggle in anticipation like a kid at Christmas morning. sledding2

Any who know Walden in the winter know about the school hill.  To this day, kids and adults still sled on it, though it is more regulated during school hours.  The population of town has dwindled and the old elementary building has been abandoned.  All grades fit inside what used to be the Jr.-Sr. Highschool building.  A fair walk up the hill and across the football field and then up the main sledding hill again to find that exhilaration, now limited by rules of conduct, numbers of times you can sled, and other lists which just suck the life out of everything.  It’s no wonder the kids use their recess to text each other instead.

I try to get my kids to the Hill at least once a year.  We like to use truck inner tubes.  Sometimes plastic sleds work if the snow is right.  Coming up to altitude is about a 3,000 ft. difference.  At 42 my body protests, but the muscle memory of hundreds of runs up that hill spur me on.  Even if my lungs don’t cooperate and my heart races and my head swims, my legs are pushing me up that hill, eager for the next run down.  Even my dad in his 60s will sometimes sled with us.  My mom too.  Times are different in good ways.  When I was a kid, the idea of my grandparents in their 60s sledding down a hill was unimaginable.  People got old younger and stayed there in those days.  My kids don’t know what that was like, thank goodness.  Or maybe it’s like my legs.  Once you feel the pull downward and you are racing down the Hill, the years just fall away like chaff.  sledding

My youngest makes friends every time we go.  He has never met a stranger it seems, and the local kids are welcoming.  It’s the love of the Hill that binds them all.  There is no rivalry or distrust of outsiders.  They know only one thing, and that is the rush you get when flying down that hill, en masse or alone.  They don’t even know each other’s names as they shout out to each other with every pass.  Even my teenagers loved the Hill.  They were pulled kicking and screaming from their devices and peer groups and their occluded teen worlds into an uncertainty of ice and snow and a blissful approach to terminal velocity.  You are reminded you are alive because compared to your daily life, you feel one step closer to death.  The phones don’t even compare.

Social media on the Hill is snow and gravity.