Stick-Hopping {and other winter adventures}

My adventurous friend and I tented out in the snow last night.

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We wore fleece, filled our Nalgene waterbottles with hot water and tucked them at our feet, burrowed under our sleepingbags and fell asleep to the sound of Harley’s snoring

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and the loud whine the neighborhood snowmobilers whizzing through our front yard.

My friend said that her little sister was jealous of our adventure. She said, “When I get older, I hope I can have an adventurous friend!”

When I was younger, I was blessed to have an adventurous friend right within my family. She was Laura, my sister.

Slender and spunky as all get out, she was the one I was most likely to cajole into playing with me. And I was the one she could convince to aide her with her latest brainstorm. Between the two of us, we came up with many grand schemes.

In the winter, we would zip into our neon full-body snowsuits, and swish down the lane with the dog at our heels, all three of us looking for an adventure. One side of our lane sloped into the marsh, and had a steep tree-lined bank.

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We sat down at the top of this bank, and slid bumpily down on our bottoms, right into the marsh. In that frozen marsh, below eye-level of most of our property, we created adventures in our own little world.

Our first step was to each find a strong, tall branch.

This was our “hopping stick” and we used it to swing ourselves across expanses of mud or parts of the stream that were too wide to jump. Pretty impressive, our stick-hopping was, now that I actually think about it. And a pretty funny sight we must have made, two little neon dwarves swinging through the “wilderness”–for that’s what it was to us–on our tall sticks.

We loved to wander across the swamp, exploring the flora and fauna of a world we never ventured into in the summer.

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Tall brown reeds rattled in the wind, teasel swayed against the deep blue of the sky and tiny green things did their best to grow by the gurgling stream.

Dry grasses bent under their weight of snow to make little mouse hide-outs that the dog loved to shove her nose into. She always brought it back out snowy and looking incredibly mischievous, panting with pride because we were laughing at her.

The snow and ice made cool curvy ledges along the stream, and we loved to see how close we could get before the ledge broke, plunged into the water, and swooshed swiftly on, out of our sight.

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We found a clay bank, and took some home, but were too lazy to make anything out of it. Later, I went back to the spot with my neighbor friend, and we painted our faces to look like Indians.

One of our favorite games to play was Snowball Racing. We each made a snowball of the same size, packed it as solidly as we could, and put it in the stream at the same spot. The goal was to see whose snowball would travel the farthest downstream before it melted. We could each poke our snowball 5 times with our trusty stick, if it happened to meet up with a stick, or got stuck, or just needed a helping hand. My sister usually won.

When we got cold and hungry, we clambered back up the path towards home, washing the mud off of our swishy suits with mitten-fulls of snow.

Those were the best of times.

Is there another snow storm headed your way? Don’t despair! Capture winter’s last fling in the most memorable way you can. Live a little!

Drink tea and make plans for spring if you can’t go out. Spring WILL come.

It always does.

If you can go out, DO! Make a desperate snowman. Watch the snowflakes sift over the trees. Actually look at your surroundings. What you find may surprise you.

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Like these frost-flowers I found on one bitter outing this winter. If I’d have come an hour later…..

they’d have been gone.

My Yellow Dress & What Sounded Like A Helicopter

I was 18, and my first car was a Mercury Sable station wagon.

Eggy

Eggshell-tan, except for where the paint was peeling to reveal a lighter color underneath. Inside, the upholstery was ripped and if you plopped into your seat too hard dust would fall from the exposed and brittle insulation in the ceiling. The license plate was ‘EGY-4849’, so we called my heroic steed ‘Eggy’.

Oh, and I forgot to mention… this car was one of those stylish station wagons where you could pull the floor of the trunk up into a rear-facing seat. Needless to say, all of my friends BEGGED to go riding with me.

One warm day in spring, my bestie and I decided to go to the mall. In Eggy, which was an instant ticket to high class.

In the true spirit of the season, we donned our girly best, and I distinctly remember wearing a new yellow dress. It was a short, fluffy dress, and I remember it because I didn’t have a lot of yellow clothing at the time and because I didn’t wear many short dresses and because girls just do remember stuff like that.

Laughing and listening to the radio and joking about –well–things girls joke about, my friend and I were long-gone on our merry way when we heard a strange sound.

Wup-wup-wup.

Kinda like a helicopter.

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It got louder.

Peering dubiously out the windows while speeding–well, less polite people might term Eggy’s locomotion as ‘careening’–down the highway, we tried to figure out where this foul aircraft could be, and why it was hovering so low.

Turns out, there was no helicopter.

There was only one dysfunctional Eggy station wagon, one wheel decidedly flat, just past the off-ramp 4o minutes from home.

We called my dad. He was away from home, but tried to tell me what to do. At that point in my life, my only idea of a jack, other than my cousin Jack, was the large kind that are used in a mechanic’s shop.

I saw nothing of either sort in the trunk of my car.

So there I was, sitting in the trunk of a horrifically ugly station wagon, my little yellow skirt blowing in the breeze, trying to decipher what in the hoot my Dad was trying to describe to me above the racket of passing traffic as my friend did her best to aide me. We were the perfect picture of two damsels in distress.

What do you know, but a car pulled over behind us.

We, being young, dumb and trusting in the entire factuality of unhealthy local news stories circulating at the time, were petrified with terror.

“Here, hold the keys!” I hissed to my friend, convinced that these newcomers sole purpose for stopping was to hijack our disfuncionable steed. Two men walked up to us, both rednecks, the older man sporting a full beard and weathered face, the younger one handsome and shy-looking. “Hi, I’m —-, and this is my son, David. Can we help you?”

I tried to tell him no, while my dad, still on the phone, tried to tell him yes and my friend sat in the car grasping the keys with white-knuckled force. Finally, David’s dad, seeing he was getting nowhere, just knelt down and started loosening the lug nuts.

He tried to make comforting conversation.

“Do you know what you hit?”

“N… nooo.”—“we thought we heard a helicopter…” my brain wanted to finish, but I didn’t say that part out loud. Somehow, I got the faint impression that David and his father didn’t have the highest opinion of our common sense.

Another rackety vehicle pulled over. This was becoming quite the scene. My friend would never want to go shopping with me again!

These people were strangers as well.

“Are you a (local family) girl?”

“No…..”

“Oh, ok. Well, we just saw you by the side of the road with two men, and wanted to make sure you were ok.”

“Oh. I’m fine.” I said, and they eventually went on their way, still not convinced that I wasn’t the girl they thought I was.

David’s father had the spare on within minutes, and instructed us about the speeds with which we could drive on it. I was so flustered, I never even tipped him. But I did say “Thank you” with strongest feeling, and shook his honest hand while vowing never to judge a person by their appearance again.

Then my friend and I darted into Eggy’s safe recesses, shivered a little, laughed a little, and continued on our way to the mall, the indomitable high spirits of our youth restored by the pleasant outcome of our unfortunate situation.

But I still felt guilty for not tipping David’s dad, so I prayed blessings upon him for a week.

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This morning, I blew a tire.

Impressively enough, I didn’t sweat it. I just pulled into Hess, shoveled to the bottom of my overstuffed trunk, pulled out my spare, and had that puppy changed in 15 minutes flat. Sitting here now, I laugh about the difference between today and the first time I had car trouble. It’s amazing how time changes things.

And it’s amazing how real friends remain your friend for years and still want to go shopping with you….

even if you break down in an ugly station wagon named Eggy, are scared of strangers, and get grease on your new yellow dress.

Goodbye Innocence

 I drove past a boy today, and as I looked at him, he swiftly turned his head in shame.

Who was he? Just a long-haired kid in a gangster hat, his tee ultra-baggy and his shorts sagging. He must have been, say, thirteen? As he stood there on the edge of a shady patch of woods in his front yard, he looked up, saw me, and quickly pretended to be bored.

WHY?

He had been playing with a stick before he noticed me, poking around the woods with carefree curiosity. But when he saw me, he was ashamed, and tried to nonchalantly bounce the stick in his hand and stare towards the house as if waiting for a friend.

The encounter took less than 10 seconds, but it left me feeling depressed. Who stole innocence from our society’s kids? When did carefree curiosity become “uncool”, even unheard of? When did it become not ok for kids to play with sticks and stones and just plain get dirty for no real reason? I felt sad for the boy, even though I didn’t even know his name, because I could imagine his life manual all too plainly.

  • Succeed in sports, or everyone will see I am not worth anything.
  • Succeed in flirting with the cute girls at school, or everyone will think I am a nerd.
  • Succeed in wearing cool clothes, having cool stuff, and hanging at cool places, or everyone will be embarrassed to be around me.
  • Succeed in getting away with dangerous stuff, or everyone will think I am a ninny.
  • Succeed in hiding my emotions, because no one really cares anyhow.

Life is a trap for teens today. We have scores of homeless teens, teens in juvie, teen parents, teen cutters, teen dealers,  teens hopelessly trapped by addictions, scores of teen suicides and homicides. Carefree has no meaning. Innocence can get you in a heap of trouble. Hope is nowhere to be found. Some seek it anyhow, but most are so practiced at wearing their mask of nonchalance that soon even they forget they have a problem.

Where are the kids who live out of who they really are inside… what they feel and see, what they wish and dream for? Where is hope, new birth, and a fresh start? Who is gonna’ step out, give instead of take, love like there’s no tomorrow, and be a crazy voice crying in the wilderness with a message of hope and belonging?

We need a revolution.

Desperately.

It can start with me. Or you….

But only if we care enough to be uncool.