Picking Up Speed

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful…”

Those aren’t just song lyrics.  The whining, whistling wind of a winter storm blew past my ears as I ran my accustomed route yesterday evening, signaling a brief hiatus to my fitness program.  And, this morning, the cold monster up above began to slobber and drool, releasing ice and sleet to cover the ground and trees, as well as the roads.

When the tiny humans on the ground insisted upon continuing their activities, nearly unfazed (except for the temporary insanity of removing all the bread and milk they could carry from the grocery store shelves), the petulant storm shook its wintry head in frustration and covered the world below in a layer of white dandruff several inches deep.

We are sitting tonight, the Lovely Lady and I, by the fire, reminiscing about winters gone by.  Sledding and inner tubing, making doughnuts in empty parking lots with the old ’76 Chevy Nova, and even a ride or two on the upside down car hood being towed behind a friend’s old Ford pickup truck–all of these are wonderful memories from the past.

We’re staying by the fire, though.

It seems that the season of life when we need to make memories out in the cold, hard world has faded into the season of life when we enjoy said memories from the comfort of our little den.  I’m not worried one little bit about frostbite.  Even so, the memory makes me shiver from the cold.

It was the winter of my twenty-first year on this planet.  Winter was a relatively new sensation to me, having spent the first nineteen of them in the heat of the tropics.  The invitation to make a few trips to the top of a nearby hill seemed innocent enough.

Go down fast–climb up slowly–repeat.  What could go wrong?

We had no sleds, but sheets of thick plastic and huge pieces of cardboard from appliance boxes served to get us down the hill time and time again.  Then another twenty-something friend appeared with a huge inner tube from a semi-truck tire.  Wow!  This had promise!

The guys thought it would be fun to pile four and five deep onto the huge black doughnut and slide down the hill, and we did just that.  Two or three trips down the hill with just one or two of us rolling off on the way down convinced the young ladies who were there that it wasn’t dangerous at all.  The next thing we knew, there were three couples atop the bouncy homemade toboggan in a mass of laughing, teasing humanity.

At the top of the hill, the inner tube stuck tight, refusing to move until a couple of nearby onlookers were recruited to give it a push.  Slowly, the massive rubber craft began its descent over the well-worn track leading to the bottom of the hill and another routine trudge back up.  Only, along the way we got off the track.  Perhaps we had loaded one side more than the other, but regardless, the tube drifted rapidly in what appeared to be a collision course with a tree near the end of the slope.  Ready to roll off, and realizing that we were picking up speed quickly, we managed to steer the whole ungainly affair to the right of the big tree and we breathed a sigh of relief.

Too soon!  As we passed the tree we found, to our surprise and lasting discomfort, that there was a protruding root stretched out under the snow.  The resulting ramp which the packed snow formed launched the inner tube and all of its passengers high up into the air at a tremendous speed.  Our laughing ceased instantly as we found ourselves propelled through the air on the way to a certain impact on the snow below.

I won’t bother to describe the carnage.  I think most of us forewent the return trip up the hill at that point, electing instead to head for home and hot showers.  No one required a trip to the emergency room, but to this day, the Lovely Lady feels the effect of that one trip down the snow-covered hillside.

No.  We’ll stay in and enjoy the wintry weather in the comfort of a warm house.  Our advanced years and an episode or two like the one just described have taken away our need to experience the thrill and chill of the fresh snowfall firsthand.

Will you allow just one moral lesson from this little trip down the hills in my memory tonight?

It hadn’t been too many months before that wintry night when the Lovely Young Lady’s mother had stopped us at the front door as we headed out for a date one evening.  Her words seemed strange to me, but her intent was clear.  She was concerned, as most loving parents are, that lines might be crossed which couldn’t be retreated from and she wanted to make her meaning plain.

“You know, a toboggan starts really slowly down the hill, but once it picks up speed, it is nearly impossible to stop.”  She was actually embarrassed to say the words, but she didn’t want to wait until it was too late.

We got the point.

The lesson is true in many more ways than the application to youthful lusts which have led multitudes down disastrous paths.  I have seen innumerable ways in which it may be applied to daily life, even as I have matured.

No one gets over their heads in debt all at once, it seems.  Slowly it begins, a dollar here, ten there, and finally, hundreds and thousands of dollars later financial ruin awaits at the bottom of the hill.

The married woman accepts the invitation to coffee from the company hunk, thinking to herself, “It’s only coffee…”  The sled moves only inches, but it moves.

The businessman makes a sale of a few hundred dollars and pockets the cash, keeping it off the books.  The IRS audit awaiting down below seems so far away.

Hmmm…it seems that the toboggan principle applies to my writing also.  One moral truth has almost become a full trip down the hill to a sermon.

It may be time to roll off of this sled.

I could almost like winter from the vantage point I’ve got tonight.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

“…but the fire is so delightful.”

“I must cool myself and think.  For, it is easier to shout stop! than to do it.”
(Treebeard in The Two Towers ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English novelist/educator ~ 1892-1973)

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
(Lao Tzu ~ Ancient Chinese philosopher ~ 604 BC-531 BC)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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