The Big Hill

“Nature is dangerous. No doubt about it. That’s one thing I know for sure.”  So says the ten-year-old.

It’s the second snowiest February. Snow is falling now. It’s slow going getting to the Big Hill. With each step we sink to our hipbones.  A goldfinch is at the feeder in shabby plumage. No sign of deer or wild turkey for days.

There are 3 hills for sledding on “4 Fields Farm,” ( an urbanites’ “farm,” where fields lie fallow and there are no domesticated animals, apart from a senior poodle. Granted, there is a squash and tomato patch come May.) The little hillock, not much more than a protuberance, lies just off the carport.  The kids can do this one on their own, if they are motivated to turn off glowing devices, layer up and heave-ho into the cold. Layering up is tedium in spades: undershirt, turtleneck, sweater (Nana insists on wool,) flannel-lined jeans, snow pants, socks (two pairs,) boots, double-knotted, down jacket, hats, gloves, scarf.


The medium slope on the west side of the farmhouse in the second field is long, but not steep. It’s well-suited to middle childhood. Sometimes we build a snow ramp towards the bottom, which really you need, to add a little oomph under your tailbone.  The gradual build-up of speed offers manageable thrills and spills.  We double up on my sled and give it a few good turns.  My eyes drift south to the third field...

At the southwest corner of the third field the Big Hill beckons, softly as snow descending, and just as relentlessly. Once you’ve done the Big Hill, you forget the others.  Two days earlier, skidding up Granddad’s driveway, plowed six times already this season, I look out over the unbroken whiteness and imagine my run. The Big Hill: best when the snow thaws slightly in the winter sun, then refreezes overnight—a 99 cents store plastic tablecloth of ice.  Like the medium hill, the approach starts leisurely, but then a sharp incline ends in a briar patch, full of juicy, buggy raspberries in July, now thorny canes piercing the ice—the razor wire of Attica or Leavenworth.

Ever since his freak camp accident at age 8, when he was made goalie—against his will—in a game of capture the flag, my son sees danger where others don’t.  A measured child by nature, he is unapologetically risk-averse today.  Score! The 17-year-old counselor slides into goal, taking my boy’s right ankle with him. Diagnosis and treatment:  an angulated fracture in two places requiring surgery, pins, and two settings in full-leg plaster casts to get it right.  A morphine drip in the recovery room doesn’t deliver relief. Another drug taps into the line to help the morphine kick in.   No wonder my boy shies away from reckless sporting. The little brother is the skeleton racer, this one is the curler.  But there’s more to life than curling, cycling and tennis…

“Turn right at the big oak,” I shout. (actually it’s a maple. Urbanite.)

“Mom, you’re going to die!”

“I am not going to die. I might get a little scratched up when I hit the raspberries, but I am NOT going to die.”

“You are going to DIE!! You are going to hit that tree and DIE!!”

“Theodore, there is no way I can hit that tree, there’s a bank of bushes that will stop me long before I reach that tree.”

One thing I know for sure:  I don’t know for sure how anything is going to turn out. I’ve sailed down the Big Hill, winter after winter.  Like snowflakes, no two rides are ever the same. This I also know: fearsome things usually haven’t  turn out as bad as expected, and things I assumed would go well, well, they didn’t.  

I also know going fast is fun. The left lane, the luge and red Ducati motorcycles.  When you take the middle hill, even if your Evel Knievel ramp is slick and sassy from repeated runs,  you are still in control. You are not flying. Icarus and the Wright Brothers were onto something.

Best to do the Big Hill quickly. Don’t over think it, and once you start picking up speed, don’t try to break your course by sticking a boot in the snow. Sure way to hurt yourself. Tuck your limbs in the toboggan, cross your hands over your face and head for the brambles.   It’s about being one with your sled.” Amen. I am one with Olympic bobsled pilot Elana Meyers.  And my boy is too, following in our silver-medal-earning run.

Alas, the Big Hill doesn’t offer big thrills today. The snow is too fresh. Then again, it’s just right for a maiden run by a boy with hang-ups.  

It’s a long haul back up to the house, the roaring wood stove, and cocoa, mostly undrunk, except for the marshmallows.  It’s a trek fraught with kid whining:

“MOM….MOM…..  I can’t do this. I need you, I need you, I NEED you…”

He collapses halfway. Send in the St. Bernards. I plant my sled straight up in the snow, backtrack and offer my hand.

He doesn’t take it. Gotcha! He leaps up, offers his snarky  smile,  and passes me, heading uphill.

“I don’t need you Mom.”  

I watch him, my son climbing above me, his form smaller and smaller, blurred by falling snow.