A Story about "Cold" -- Learning to Love Winter
January 20, 2016
The Lansing newspaper has started a storytelling series hosted at a different pub each month. Last night the theme was "Cold," but tellers had to practice for a month ahead of time and I missed out. But it got me to thinking that I might like to dare tell a story sometime. Here is the one I was thinking might've been fun to tell. Martha says it's boring. What do you think? I agree it's maybe not exactly a story but it's what came to mind. Yeah, it's a lot of my "usual" but that might not be so bad for a general audience. So...
There's a lot of whining about winter around here nowadays, but I grew up thinking winter was cool. First was the "Winter Water Wonderland" license plate. Then as a kid in the 1970's there was "Jeremiah Johnson." ...The TV mini-series "Colorado," starring Robert Conrad. ...And "Grizzly Adams." We had adventure on the brain. But winter proved a bit daunting.
We'd go sledding and notice that our ability to "stay outside" was always on a downhill slide. We'd have fun but gradually get colder til we had to go in. How did adventurers do it? They lived outside!
Enter an amazing person: Ron Bacon. He volunteered every year for 30 years to show local schoolkids about the outdoors. He taught whole schools! He looked like Robert Conrad himself and would come into our auditorium and classroom wearing a fur hat. He told the history and gave us the lay of the land and then explained how adventure was done. ...Then he hosted weeklong outdoor sessions for every schoolkid. But of all the times of the year, he picked WINTER! Hundreds of kids would pack the cabins of a nearby nature area and Ron would show everybody WINTER skills for snowy fun!
First we had our checklists, what we needed to have to go on these campouts. Our parents were shy on providing anything but we finagled the bare minimum and made do for the rest. We never could get "real" snowboots but we learned about lining our cheap rubber boots with newspaper. It worked! We stayed so much warmer than when we went sledding before.
Ron showed everybody how to snowshoe and cross country ski and ice fish and how to do fur trapping. We made little live-traps for mice out of coffee cans with a mousetrap wired in and a can-lid wired to the bail of the trap. And we discovered how bait would attract the little wild things. They worked! Ron cut a hole in the ice and covered it with a tarp. We would lie down on the ice under the tarp and peer into the underwater world of clear pale vegetation with fish swimming around. Then we'd bait our hooks and catch bluegills hand over fist. All these things put together were how to have adventure fun in the winter time!
Still, there was actually doing it. It took some nerve and daring and sorting out.
And at first it really was COLD! We seriously got down to figuring this stuff out. How did it really work? When we'd first go out there was always an initial shock. Our little tricks would get knocked aside and we were COLD! Ow, it hurt! What the heck? OK, we knew this from sledding in total ignorance but how could it ever get better? Dang, then our fingers and toes would go numb! Oh no! We would stamp around and try to keep doing things. Then came a burn! What is that! Is it frostbite? Will we lose our fingers? Frostbite was a big deal. We were sure we'd all get it. It would be kinda cool. Maybe. We could brag about it, like getting a cut or having a scab. It meant we'd endured some REAL cold. "Way below zero!"
And then the miracle happened. After the burn came the GLOW. All of a sudden blood started flowing nice and proper in our hands and feet and they were warm! We did it! With our new tricks and skills we could play outside all day and not get cold! ...Stay dry. Wear wool. Keep moving. Nothing should fit too tight. Cover up.
Then when we were skiing or snowshoeing another miracle happened: we got so warm we took clothes off! Suddenly we found that if we kept moving we were fine with only the lightest coverings! Suddenly we were playing around with just hat, gloves, shirt and pants! And we were toasty! As long as we stayed dry, moving and out of the wind. It worked!
And from then on the same thing has always happened. I go outside and feel the hurt right away before I start moving much. And maybe the fingers and toes go numb. But if I'm moving around they'll then start burning. Then in a couple minutes they'll break on through to a toasty warm which lasts for hours! And I'm as warm in winter as I am in summer! Winter has been handed to me on a platter and I can enjoy the season like it was meant to be!
I can get out and glide and play in the big outdoor fun rink. Anywhere that's snowy or icy is great for fresh air gliding or zooming somehow.
All of this thanks to an initially positive outdoor culture and then the outdoor enthusiasm of our area's first outdoor educator, Ron Bacon.
Ron started the local community rec programming for all the ballsports as well. But as long as he was involved he insisted that outdoor rec be included. If kids were going to learn basketball, they'd learn archery and marksmanship and winter sports as well. Thanks, Ron!
After he retired the outdoor sports were dropped and we've now had generations of ballsport-only kids. And the winter whining couldn't be worse. And nearly all our outdoor rec centers have closed down. And Michigan is near the bottom of the nation's health charts. But there's always hope for new leadership to bring back an appreciation of reality and all the seasons that go with it! ...Including winter!