Usually when we leave the funnest, funkiest, best ski place in the land, Whitegrass, and head home, both cold and snow fade as we head southeast. But this weekend, after we climbed the last pass to the Virginia border, we saw flakes in Harrisonburg, and by the time were up to cruising speed on southbound I-81, a storm had begun. When we hit Roanoke, the big city round here, the driver’s knuckles were nearly as white as the snow.
When we arrived home the trees were hanging low over the driveway with the heavy stuff, our first real snow this year. And inside the robotic alert voice on our answering machine told us what we wanted to hear: no school.
The kids are older now, pre-adolescent, and though a good snow day still thrills them, my wife and I were the first out the door. We put on our skis and blazed trails around the farm. I kicked out along the creek and scared up a great blue heron, a bird that frightens very gracefully: slow jump and lift out of the creek, unfold wide wings to row high above sycamores.
We skied around the rest of the place, looking for tracks in the snow and the stories they might tell. A rabbit must live near the old general store. Something bigger by the cherry tree. Little feet scurried out by the grove.
Then back to the hill, the “intermediate” one, first on skis, but the wind created a crust, a hard crud over soft crystal, so instead of graceful “S” turns--if snow tracks tell stories--mine show a zig instead of a smooth glide, off balance, throw poles up, catch self, try to turn again and recover, lunge back, throw one ski out, straighten body, deep drift again and trip over, break fall with side of face and shoulder, catch snow in eyebrows, melt snow in mouth. In the snow: a bad snow angel, a big round dent.
We also took our skis off and tried a few attempts with the sleds but that crust was hard to break through. I had much trouble keeping our purple plastic toboggan thing going straight. It seemed to gather speed okay, but then turn suddenly and unexpectedly, skid out in the rear, with no way to steer into this one, and passenger dumped into another head over heels roll.
We had to pack the snow, of course, had to do our duty, we said, to make it easier for the kids. Sometime the parents have to show the kids how it’s done. So we kept at it until they joined us, and then spent most the morning up and down, in to warm up, and back out, sometimes on skis, others on sleds, sliders and something Sam calls “Yeti,” his abominable snow-sliding monster.
The second day, day two, school was again closed, even though the roads were clear. But we live south of the Mason Dixon Line, and snow is a major inconvenience here, very unexpected, so we just don’t bother with it. We close schools even at the mention of snow.
Day two I was finally catching up on some school work, sitting at writing desk, looking out on the snow-covered hill, a white expanse only occasionally broken up by tufts of brown meadow grasses. I could barely see their brightly colored hats bob up and down on the far hill, as the kids went about their work, trudging back up the hill, but I could hear their screams, especially Elliot’s, as they zipped back down.
These screams must have attracted the neighbor kids, the neighbor kids we have never seen or met. We’ve been here eight months and barely seen these kids, Timothy and Corley, or their parents, but they asked to join my kids on the hill, the “expert” slope, suicide run. And they did. They’re homeschooled but they had the day off too, and together my kids and these neighbors, new friends, were out the whole day, from lunch until I had to leave for a 5:00 class. They hadn’t met before, but snow drew them out, leveled the playing field—or sledding hill. They made a snow fort and tested out the ice on the creek. It didn’t hold.
Show them how it’s done? Sam set the length record for both days, grabbing Yeti by the handles and a running start, dive head first and down the steep slope, hang on for dear life over bumps, whiplash, wind in hair, sun on face, and glide to a stop in snowy pasture. Sledding records. Out all day. Meet the neighbors we have yet to bother to meet. They showed us. They showed us in their ruddy cheeks, their roller coaster screams.
At the end of the day, another robotic message came in: there would be a “Standards of Learning Writing Test” on Wednesday, “please make sure your child gets rest.”