Sled by example

This is my Sunday column for the March 10, 2013 Hibbing Daily Tribune. Fitting that a sledding column would follow last week’s lamentation of the Minnesota spring. We’re still winter-bound.

Sled by example
By Aaron J. Brown

Old Hollywood movies provide show us how far we’ve come. In classic films of the early 20th Century, people smoked cigarettes every waking moment, blatantly discriminated in the workplace and routinely died of diphtheria. Now, people smoke electronic cigarettes in bathroom stalls, wander a world of subtle stereotypes and quietly eat themselves to death. Progress!

In an early scene in the classic Frank Capra film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” young Peter Bailey sleds down a hill on a shovel, skids across an icy lake and tumbles into open water, to be rescued by his big brother George. In this regard — sledding — not only have we failed to make any progress, we’ve actively endeavored to ensure that Peter Bailey would have hit this open water at a much higher speed.

In my relatively sparse three decades of consciousness, the Minnesota institution of sledding has advanced tremendously, spurred by science and a loveably mediocre Chevy Chase holiday movie. New sleds slide off the factory line coated in teflon, attached to a long list of warnings few read and everyone defies.

We neutralize the many hours we spend warning children not to jump off furniture or run with scissors when we put them on slabs of plastic and hurl them down a hill at 30 mph. We justify this largely because we, as parents, loved to sled as children. And, hey, we survived!

Physically, anyway.

Except for those of us who were injured.

And those of us who died (they don’t count).

And the emotional trauma, of course, but it’s hard to say whether that was from sledding or years of midwestern emotional neglect. And so, we sled.

We took the boys sledding at a big hill near Eveleth on Christmas Eve. Some time weeks earlier several snowmen had been crafted by area youth. With below zero temperatures and bitter winds, these half melted specters had become disfigured white monoliths barely visible from the top of the hill. We happily sent our kids down, going faster than the fleetest Mongolian steppe warriors during the rule of Ghengis Khan.

They’d figure it out, right? Sure. And, indeed, they did.

Nevertheless, we watched our precious offspring shoot down the hill toward these snow formations, which I will remind were HARD AS STONE and the SAME COLOR as the ground, sky, wind and trees. All you could really do was hold up your hand like Iron Man and say, “ooooooo.” If they got really close to the widow-makers you would say “OOOOOO.” Then, as the boys glided to a graceful stop, we’d add a little hissing sound through pursed lips.

Minnesotans are not generally known as reckless, but we are surprisingly radical when you review the history books. We are pleasant enough. But when pushed, well, then we’ll shut down the mines in a decades-long labor battle to secure better rights for workers. Then everything’s fine for a while. Oh, wait? 1950s Southern-dominated Democratic Party? Have some Hubert Humphrey. You’re welcome.

Sledding is, perhaps, an extension of this trait. We get our thrills where we can and we like to make it count. We’ve got sleds for all kinds of snow because we know that not all snow is the same. The only thing that really matters is to go very, very fast while we still can.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts 91.7 KAXE‘s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations.

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