Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lake Effect Snow

“Are you okay?” I ask Nathanael, my son. He’s four years old. From the bottom of the hill he’s looking up at me, his face and neck covered with snow. His first run down the sledding hill ended with a soft and rolling crash, leaving him splayed like a starfish. After a moment he finally determines, “I wanna go again!” Quickly he stands up and starts the long climb to the top. His older sister Grace has already made her way back up. She doesn’t need my help sledding anymore. She already has two winters on her younger brother.

As Nathan fights the smoothness and pitch of the big hill, I take a moment to look around me. It’s the day before Thanksgiving and we’re visiting my wife’s grandmother in Jamestown, NY. Jamestown is about an hour south of Buffalo in the very heart of Lake Erie’s snow belt. This means that there is always an overabundance of snow from early November until the spring. Tonight is no different. There is at least a foot of snow on the ground and it’s perfect – cold enough to pack, but not so wet that it soaks through your snowsuit.

It’s just dusk and the lights from the streets and the parking lots around us reflect brightly so that it’s not really dark out. There’s a soft, amber glow to everything so you could sled all night if you wanted. It’s the same glow I remember from my childhood playing outside in the snow under the streetlights. We always had lots of snow when I was a kid growing up in Northeast Ohio. Looking around I notice the snow has gathered thick on the branches of all the trees creating a soft canopy covering the houses and sidewalks beneath. There are ten or twelve different families on the hill surrounding us by their laughter and screams of delight as the kids surf down the huge hill in ones, twos and threes. Some are on discs, some are on toboggans and one teenage kid has an old Flexible Flyer. One brave father allows his two young sons to lie down on top of him as they cruise down on their bellies. At a glance it looks like today's version of a Currier & Ives print—folks young and old enjoying the fun and frolic of the fresh, fallen snow.

Grace soon finds a friend named Crystal and she’s off to go up and down the hill without us. That leaves me to give all my attention to my boy Nathanael, and I’m all in. His little 35 lb. frame is made for this, and my somewhat larger frame seems to be holding up. The more trips down we make, the more Nathan’s confidence grows. Soon he wants to hit the big ramp the teenage boys are using with their snowboards. We try it. We crash. We laugh. Inwardly I know that I’m going to be in some pain the next day, but it’s a pain I’ll gladly endure. I also know that we’ll be returning to Grandma’s warm house later where hot chocolate and warm baths await. Grandma's hot chocolate has amazing healing powers.

This is a good moment. It’s a moment that makes any preceding not-so-good moments worth it. It’s a moment that will stick with me for a long time: My boy learning the pure joy of sledding in the perfect snow from Lake Erie, the promised hot chocolate and the forging of lifelong remembrances.

A good moment that is mine.

More later. . .

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