Willow Winter – A Driftless Memoir

By Willow –

My mind wandered, as it will when unfocused.

I somehow got caught up in winter’s of younger days. I soon  became lost in memories of times long past, when taking a body shot had little more effect than perhaps a slightly bruised ego. It didn’t take long to be on my feet, staring at and trash talkin’ the non-existent crack I clumsily tripped over, and a quick glance to see if there were any witnesses. 

Pride recovered, I’d just shake off the snow, and get on with the quest. Getting wet was remarkably similar to a wet dog smiling as he shook off the snow once he had found his way out of the snowbank after attempting a personal best, as he led with the determination of an athlete … how far could he fly and how deep would he sink (as if from a high dive, taking a perfectly choreographed dive from the top step, sinking in the deep snowbank. Dogs and kids goofing around in the snow … BEST TIMES. 

To this day I have an appreciation for the snow angels made by my black lab Sarge. Winter was like that growing up here in the Driftless Area. We had endless energy, and I only recall it being cold once. School was even canceled due to the temperature being -35° with a -50° wind chill. You would think the “glacial” ice that had missed the Driftless region had arrived the way the people were acting. 

You knew the “True Natives” of the town. They were the folks saying “Ah Bull, wind chill doesn’t count for anything! Only the actual temperature gets recorded in the Farmer’s Almanac”! And everyone needed to “Tuffin Up”. That was the conversation from the barstool holders at dad’s regular stop after work, I was his gofer that day.

There weren’t a lot of holdouts. The regulars of any of the bars of our small Wisconsin town always ventured out regardless. They hadn’t taken the day off. Surely they weren’t going to forego a beer with the guys and swap stories of that bitter cold day. My dad had the best, being he was in the heating business. They’re tough as nails those guys … respect.

Ah, a smile just showed up, (instantaneous and automatic with recall of another winter’s day), displayed itself widely on face and heart. 

Winter fun when young … a memory of freshly plowed mountains of snow that had been made just for us at the corners of the driveway. Ski hills!

Off we went to find grandfather’s skies that had come with his father from Germany. They were wood, with half inch wide leather straps and a buckle. All of 2 1/2 inches wide, and 8 feet long. 

There we were, at the top of our mountain, strapping on the skies, ready-only to find the tips of the skies, well, they were at the bottom. We were determined we were SKIING down. 

Determination failure! There may have been several ways down, but it wasn’t going to be with the skies on.

Moving on to what we might discover next, it wasn’t long before we found our mischief, No, I mean our Everest. A bit of creativity, some ingenuity, and strength, and there we were, summiting our own mountain. 

We were on the roof of our two story house. The snow had drifted perfectly in a wave up to the roof and hardened in the cold. With a foot of snow base, it offered up great conditions for our first experience.

Can you imagine a better ski hill for some kids on 100 year old German skies? Pure bliss. Enough to keep us out of mom’s way for hours (until dad came home and put an immediate end to such shenanigans). Mom had no idea we enjoyed ourselves so much while staying outdoors all day.

As the years passed we moved on to the bigger hills. One thing for certain, here in the Driftless Area, we had a multitude of incredibly different terrain options to choose from, we just had to decide how “much” fun we were up for, and how many days we had to recover. 

You probably have surmised by now … we just accepted that pain was an inevitable part of fun, all things being relative.

We tired quickly of the experiences mastered, thus advancing in both idea and skill (illusion perhaps, but you know what I mean, you did it too). I am pretty sure if you grew up in Wisconsin you weren’t a wimp of a girl. We lived for the moment … what consequences? It just didn’t come to mind.

So with a toboggan as the days vehicle of choice, we sought out larger-steeper challenges. The more moguls the better, and the higher the hill, well that’s a given! Sure I could steer my sled and passengers safely to the bottom, no, I promise I won’t go near the tree’s, I don’t want to break up my ride. Physical injury? Way too far off the radar! A thought like that only crept in when “Arthur” showed up decades later. Live for the day!

Like yesterday, when a young man crossing the street hurries to my aid to help me get my sprawled body off the sidewalk when I really would like to just lay there for a bit longer. But he helps me up just the same. Inquisitive dude. He was all about if I was okay … Did you break anything? “Just my arm and hand, I’m alright, thank you for the assist.” My pride? Didn’t even think to check. With pride cometh the fall! They have it backwards, but I am too far down the road to even remember I once had some. 

Yes. It was yesterday that I realized I had crossed the line. I had become “A woman of a certain age “.

Take the subtlety from me being schooled. What you don’t care about hurtin’ while you recklessly enjoy your youth, will indeed take you limping down memory lane!

Of the many, many, many exhilarating adventures had, with complete abandon here among the Driftless, Don’t miss a moment, it is heaven on earth!