plenty of reason and a fine touch of rime
Ah, for the hiemal, hibernal, the hyperborean time of year. A great clutch of words pertaining to winter begin with the letter h, including horripilation, which everybody knows is a case of "chilliness accompanied by goose pimples." In any event, the season is right for icy play and competition, for heterothermic activity. Winter in the north is essentially for frosty-faced kids dragging their sleds up glacial hills, or simply whomping down on pieces of cardboard or even flying by the seat of their pants. But grown-ups, too, have been known to plop down on their backs in the fresh snow and flail their arms in winglike motion, an oldtime seasonal rite called making an angel.
Where one needs the most ingenuity is in real winter—pipe-busting, house-cracking, blue-eared cold like they have in Minnesota, in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in Wyoming. Perhaps because man likes to call attention to the uniqueness of his habitat, winter games get organized. Even summer sports like baseball get winterized. One forgets the tingling in fingers and toes and gets out there, cold as a brass monkey, but ready. In such spots as Dartmouth, for example, or St. Paul, or Stowe, Vt. the games have evolved over the years into full-blown carnivals.
Speed skaters glide across a frozen lake, churning up their reflections until the ice looks like last year's white shag rug. And skating, possibly as old as frozen lakes themselves, is only the beginning. Would Hans Brinker believe a mutt race on the ice? The dogs set off, sometimes reluctantly, for trophy dashes around the lake, guided by mufflered masters sledding behind. This is obviously not a race for Chihuahuas—well, unless one hitched up a couple of hundred or so—but almost any dog bigger than a sled, and with a tolerance for human madness, will do.
February 3, 1975
Out in snowland, Softball also survives the season; it is a matter of simple conversion. The balls are painted orange, the better to spot them in the snow. Players wear galoshes instead of spikes, and slide—on practically every play—into Masonite bases frozen into the ice. The umpire moves around a lot, often giving a signal that would be unintelligible to summer-only participants: he folds his arms across his chest, clutches his shoulders, and jumps up and down.
Classic games and not-so-classic games dominate the season. There is skiing, of course, hockey, and curling, that shuffleboard on ice. Snowmobiles, half sled and half cycle, race across the plains, producing an avalanche of sound when motors intrude on a silent world. Much more in tune with the décor is a real sled dog race, the ancient vehicles pulled by Siberian huskies, their breath hanging in quiet crystals on the air, their drivers exhilarated by the whoosh of runners through snow.
Minnesota leads the nation in figuring out ways to frolic on slippery surfaces that other states spread salt over. The venerable St. Paul winter carnival, now in its 46th session, has something for everybody. Sports car races on the ice? Absolutely, although the cars are equipped with specially studded tires, lest the race turn into a demolition derby. At speeds of up to 120 mph, normal tires provide about as much traction on the glistening lakes as they would after you've driven off a cliff.
There are less reckless games. Carnivals offer such things as broomball, where teams sluff around sans skates, wielding brooms like hockey sticks, striking volleyballs instead of pucks. There is competitive ice sculpture, with never a lack of material to work with, and there are parades aplenty, featuring frozen trombones and bundled-up majorettes.
True, winter is long, often turning sullen in the end when even the faintly falling snow turns coffee-colored. But it is here now. And while it lasts, you might as well go make yourself an angel.