With big steps into drifted snow, I try to pry the Plain Dealer from the roadside box and fill bird feeders before motorists spot me. As I balance across ice floes upturned by snowplows and mar the smooth crusted lawn with bootprints, the tracks of our "neighbors" can be seen: human-like front paws of raccoons track around the house.
Here and there the familiar 3 prongs of birds, and the dash-dash, dot-dot of rabbits appear. Little furrows in and out of drifts to the base of feeders prove that the field mice have tunneled successfully.
Deer have crossed at early morning; melting out of the brush before dawn to browse, they moved away like shadows. Hurry now to finish--my winters are better viewed from the kitchen window with a cup of hot tea in hand.
It wasn't always so--as a kid, the first flakes had barely begun to cover Cleveland sidewalks when all the kids on our street would barrel outside in snowsuits, boots and knitted caps of multicolored yarns. Thus outfitted, we were considered by parents to be snow-worthy, and good for several hours of outdoor play.
And play we did-till our runny noses dripped, our toes were throbbing, and fingers were numb in ice-crusted mittens. Calls to come inside would be met with "awwwwww!"
The Snow Fort
Without adult interference we constructed families of snowmen, winding mysterious trails, and huge defensive positions for major battles in the nearby empty lot. Creating the snow forts often took longer than the battle itself--and ended when one side rushed the other's battlements, creating gleeful destruction and havoc. Even though ice balls were deemed unfair, such a missile put me on the sidelines of snow fights.
When mother saw the huge bump that had barely missed my eye, she declared snowball fights as "unladylike and dangerous" and I was banished from playing at the corner lot.
What was left of winter sports, then? I could join the ice skaters at Rockefeller Pond. I tried to imitate them, but in thick galoshes the turns just didn't come off. There was the little sled in the basement, but the thought of dragging it down 3 streets to the park and back again hardly seemed worth it.
Brushing the Heavens
What was left was making snow angels. Pretty tame stuff after mass snowball warfare. The technique was so easy the youngest toddler could do it with 15 seconds of instruction. Everyone knew that you had to have just the right kind of snow. It couldn't be too icy-you could crack your noggin or hurt your ribs.
The diamond-sparkly stuff sifting from the skies like confectioner's sugar wasn't right, either. As your body fell into it, it would poof up like smoke from a genie's lamp, leaving a thin, wavy image.
The "just right" snow was big, cut-paper snowflakes, wet and clingy. They made a satisfyingly compact snow angel, with enough air cushion between the flakes to ensure a dramatic, yet safe landing.
I decided that I would not be the energetic back-jumper who propelled himself up with a mighty leap, landing like a jettisoned package from a plane.
Nor would I be the timid croucher arranged in the fetal position, who hoped to not make a dent in anything breakable, especially herself. Tipping oh-so-tentatively backwards, but never quite coming out of the crouch, her angel was the wide-screen, flattened version. With many practice sessions-- with no one to hold up a "9.0" card either-- I learned to perfect my fall.
Feet firmly placed together, a big breath and an upright yet relaxed position was taken. Head is lifted to the skies-both for inspiration and direction. Where the head goes, the rest of me would follow.
With arms at sides and breath released slowly, I allowed myself to free-fall backwards. With a soft whoosh, landing is accomplished in 2 seconds' time.
Now, I didn't move. I lay back, with my face to the sky and watched whatever activity was going on up there…things I was too horizontally involved to notice-- cloud patterns, or birds flying by, or an airplane in transit…or I just looked at blue.
Fine-tuning the Image
When a few minutes had passed, it was time to begin the moves. With legs lying tightly to the ground, the legs were swiveled outward, each leg heading in the opposite direction from the other, to create about a quarter of a circle in the snow, which would be the gown of the angel.
Next came the angel wings. With arms still at sides and pressed into the snow, I slowly swiveled them upwards towards the shoulders and beyond, as far as each arm would reach. If I were wearing gloves instead of mittens, a little extra technique could be accomplished on the downward stroke.
Instead of dragging my arm, I opened my hands and spread the fingers wide, lifting and pressing from the top of the wings above my head to the bottom of the wings below, creating little "feathers" standing out from each wing's outline.
Then the final touch: I raised my one arm, and with a single finger, poked 3 or 4 holes into the snow just above the outline of my head….stars in my crown.
Cautiously, I raised myself with a tummy crunch, rolling forward into a crouch, then up and out, taking a giant step away. Turning, I admire her, a beauty! The snow angel lasted for about a day, pristine for awhile, then soot-spotted. Footsteps walked through her outline, and she soon collapsed into the surrounding snow.
The bird seed distributed, I round the house, heading for that cup of hot tea. It was fun to be young and agile, and never minding the cold. It was fun to create something out of the heaven-sent white stuff, with no cost to pay except a cold backside and snow down your neck.
Before me are billions of cut-paper snowflakes, wet and clingy, spread across the yard. Perfect for a snow angel…but I am not that young girl anymore. Can I even fall with confidence? And once down, can I even get up?
But the snow-swept yard is so inviting…what-the-heck. I put down the seed bucket, step forward, and turn. Feet firmly placed together, I take a big breath, lift my head to the skies, and fall backwards. Where my head goes the rest of me will follow.
A New Year's Resolution
This year, I think I will take some chances, follow my heart instead of my head. Life is short. There are too many regrets for things not done, things not tried.
I will plant my feet firmly, take a deep breath and free-fall backwards into thin air. Where my heart goes, the rest of me will follow.
For 2005, turn your dream into a snow angel. Free-fall!
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