by Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Winter sports are a large part of life here in the frozen Midwest, mainly because winter occupies such a large part of our calendar. Ignoring winter would be like trying to ignore an 800 pound gorilla who has taken over your couch and is watching your TV, drinking your beer and whose hands are Day-Glo orange because he has eaten all of your Cheetos.
Growing up on a dairy farm meant dealing with winter on a daily basis. When the weather was cold and snowy and chore time came, my siblings and I would bundle up in enough clothing to supply a Goodwill store. And it seemed a shame not to play outdoors after expending all that effort to wiggle into all those clothes.
One of our favorite wintertime playthings was our sled. The sled featured a wooden platform that could accommodate approximately two kids (depending on their size) and had steel runners that were theoretically steerable. This theory of steerability was never proven despite numerous sled drivers’ heroic efforts to avoid hitting such immovable objects as cows and barns.
The sled’s steering system seemed to consist entirely of its pilot yelling “Look out!” shortly before impact. Experienced sled pilots became adept at bailing off the sled nanoseconds prior to the collision. The pilot was usually able to halt his forward progress with his navel or his face or some similarly expendable body part.
It’s not like we ever were in much danger. Our farm lacked any substantial hills, so most of the energy for our sledding came from kid power. The pusher unit would only produce a very limited amount of propulsion before whining that it was tired and demanding that it have a turn on the sled.
Every day, we had to scoop out the gutter that our two dozen Holstein cows used as a latrine. Every day, Dad would use our manure spreader to scatter the gutter stuff onto our fields.
One day after we had cleaned the gutter, I espied a small bracket jutting from the side of the spreader. Thinking quickly, I constructed a long tow rope from discarded baling twine. When Dad headed out to the field with the spreader, I slipped my rope over the bracket and tied the other end to the sled. I bobbed along behind the spreader, a huge smile splitting my face.
Finally! A long and non-whining ride on the sled! Of course it was at a stately three MPH, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Somewhere out in the middle of the field, the spreader suddenly stopped. I was too busy studying the sled’s steering apparatus to notice that Dad had put the spreader’s spreading mechanism into gear.
Fortunately, I was well-practiced in the art of quickly bailing off the sled. Even so, things likely would have turned out much less messily had I not stayed on the sled for several long seconds, hoping to ride out the poop storm that erupted from the spreader.
Other than slipping on ice, sledding was the only opportunity I had to participate in frictionless outdoor wintertime sports.
When our two sons were in their teens, my wife and I were nagged into taking them to a nearby state park that featured a ski slope. The ski slope appeared to be merely a modest hill. Its angle of incline was so gentle that small children skied with ease down from the hilltop.
I was egged into renting a pair of skis and joining in the fun. I clamped on a pair of planks and was soon being towed up to the summit with a rope.
Upon reaching the peak, I saw that I had grossly misjudged the situation. The steepness and the height of the hill reminded me of the Grand Canyon. I hesitated for several long seconds, questioning the wisdom of hurling myself into the yawning chasm. But then a toddler schussed past me and expertly carved her way down the slope.
Thoroughly humiliated, I pushed off.
I promptly learned that the hill contained an overabundance of gravity, which was pulling me downwards at ever-increasing speeds. Too late, I also discovered that my skis were defective. They refused to be steered and lacked even a rudimentary braking system. It quickly became apparent that I was about to collide with the chalet, a decidedly immovable object.
Thankfully, my old sledding instincts kicked in. After yelling “Look out!” I came to a stop mere inches from the chalet. I lost just a small amount of facial skin and experienced only moderate navel bruising.
But I was simply glad that I was able to walk away. And also that I wasn’t spattered with poop.
If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at [email protected] His new book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.