As a youngster in North Dakota, I loved autumn: cool days, rustling of corn standing ready to be harvested, the brilliant colors on the trees. I know that anticipation caused a large part of my autumnal joy. As those pumpkins turned orange in the garden and leaves were raked into huge piles and burned, my thoughts were occupied with the holiday cheer just around the corner.
Thanksgiving was, and still is, my favorite holiday, but it was simply a gateway to a season full of family, fun and celebration. And nothing was quite so eagerly anticipated as the first real snowfall. I’m not talking about those dustings that teased us during October and into early November; I’m talking about those first heavy snowfalls that delivered sufficient amounts of the slippery stuff so friends with toboggans could pack it into slick sled runs.
When the conditions on our favorite sledding hill were just right, my sister and I would beg our parents to load up the station wagon and take us there for a day of adrenaline-driven excitement more amazing than any carnival ride could deliver. The first few runs were so thrilling that the nearly quarter-mile-long hike back to the top was easy. In time, we’d beg our father to pull us back up the hill — and he would. Then, finally, we’d be spent — red cheeks and snowy mittens — quite ready to dig into the tin of homemade cookies and the big thermos of cocoa that always appeared before the drive home.
Years later, with young children of my own, sledding the snow-covered bluffs along the Big Sioux River in South Dakota became part of the tradition. For Christmas one year, I made them each sleds using wooden runners lined with cold steel. We’d wait for the toboggans and inner tubes to render those hills into icy runs, and then my daughters would sled until wind-whipped tears froze to their cheeks. I’d pull them up the hill for one last run, and then it was into the pickup for cookies and cocoa.
I haven’t been sledding for more than two decades, but every time I walk my Kansas farm in winter, especially when there’s snow on the ground, I study each contour and cow path to the bottom of the coulee. Then I close my eyes for a brief moment and imagine careening down icy sled runs with my sister and then my daughters, and it warms me better than any cookies or cocoa possibly could.
Here’s to hoping that you find joy and warmth during this holiday season.
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