Cautionary winter tales

It was a bleak and sunless day when I found myself near the center of an ice-covered, partially frozen pond about the size of a football field. I was 7 years old, on my way home from school. The spongy ice was moving with each of my footfalls.

I looked around and saw that I was about in the middle of the pond and suddenly it occurred to me that this was not a safe place to be.

I had roughly the same distance to travel forward or backward to reach an edge. So I proceeded forward. With the motion of the ice under foot, I was increasingly anxious. I got to within 4 or 5 feet from dry land and the ice gave way.

I went through and hit the muddy bottom instantly.

I tried to walk to the shore where I would be safe. Actually I wasn’t walking; I was bouncing up and down on the muddy bottom and flailing my arms around trying to get a grip on the breaking ice. It had to be close to freezing.

I don’t know how, but I eventually did make it to dry land. I was cold and wet, covered with mud and scared out of my wits.

As I recall, when I stepped on land, I was panting for air but glad to be safe at last. I found a flat place and laid down to gather my strength to go home to face my mother and what she would say to me. Finally I mustered my strength to go on another half mile home.

As I had anticipated, my mother cried out, ”You’re all wet with icy water and covered with mud! What happened to you?”

How could she not know? I proceeded to tell her the story of how I fell through the ice. We took off my clothes and washed me up.

“Well, at least you’re safe,” she said, and gave me a hug.

A couple of hours later, my father came home. He appreciated the way I had solved my problem, but he cautioned me in the future to think before I acted in a problem situation. We never mentioned it again.

A couple of winters later, in a different location, I was sledding on my Flexible Flyer with some friends. One of my companions said, “Don’t touch your tongue to that ice cold metal on the sled. Your tongue will stick to it. The only way to get it off will be to run warm water over it.”

(Do you remember the folk tale of the boy whose mother told him not to put beans up his nose? Of course he did it, though he wouldn’t have thought of it if she hadn’t mentioned it.)

Of course I touched my tongue to the icy metal and it stuck! I was at the bottom of the hill and there was no place to get water there. I had to carry my sled, nearly as long as I was tall, all the way back up to the top with my tongue stuck fast. There were some tense minutes as I waited until my friend was able to find a cup of water. While I held the sled, he poured the water over where the tongue touched the metal and finally released me. Was I relieved!

Then, there was the cross-country skiing incident on Mount Tom in Easthampton. The day that our phys ed class from school went on the skiing outing was the day after a heavy snow. Unbeknownst to me, a tree had been blown down across our trail.

I was in the lead position and when I came to where the tree had fallen all I saw was a mound of snow. Not thinking what might be the cause of the mound, I inadvertently broke through the snow with my right ski. It went underneath the fallen tree and the left ski went over it. The consequence was a broken ski and a strained ankle.

With the help of my friends, I limped back to the infirmary.

These winter stories taught me to think before acting. Sooner or later, we all learn that lesson.