I wrote this a few months back, but last weekends's snow brought it back to mind....
Last night my family and I finished eating dinner together and I glanced at the clock. Almost 7:30. A quick check of the thermometer revealed that the temperature outside was falling fast and was currently 25. Good, it had gone below freezing. Next I glanced out the window. The full moon was has just barely over the hill, and not yet above the trees. Not high enough yet.
I sat down on the couch and opened the novel I was reading. The house was warm and comfortable. The couch was soft. The book had just reached the exciting part. Almost eight o'clock. A quick check showed the temperature had dropped another 5 degrees. An inward struggle began. It's really pretty late. The temperature is dropping faster than I thought. It's such a hassle to get everything on, and our stuff is probably still wet from this afternoon. Maybe we should just rearrange things a bit and do this in the morning. Someone is going to get hurt. How will you feel if we end up in the emergency room tonight? You'll wish like crazy you had stayed on the couch.
I glanced out the window again. The moon was over the trees. The snow covered fields were lit up, reflecting the silver light of the full moon. My internal struggle intensified sharply, then a decision was reached. Moving quickly, before I changed my mind I yelled to my two oldest children, "Let's go, it's time!" I grimaced as my wool sock soaked up water from the sole of my boot. Snow must have fallen in there and melted when I took off my things that afternoon. I pulled on my insulated overalls and jacket. My hat and gloves were still damp from earlier.
I stepped reluctantly from the warm living room into the sharp cold of the night. My wet foot started to feel chilly. Too late now. I tried to push thoughts of broken bones and broken necks out of my mind and crunched up the walk, out of the yard, and out from the under the shadows of the cedar trees. As we started towards the hill the reluctance started to fade. The full moon, incredibly bright, was now higher. The fields and hill were all sparkling as silver moonlight reflected off the snow. The three of us marveled at the brightness as we chased our shadows towards the hill.
We paused briefly at the base of the hill, quiet again after our burst of excited comments about the brightness of the moonlight. Thoughts of injury and sudden death hovered again in my mind. We each grabbed a sled, left there from the afternoon and started up the hill. The top of the hill was dark, shadowed by the cedars. I looked down the sled run. This afternoon the sun was hot and the snow was close to slush. The sleds ran, but not very fast. It was easy to see the obstacles and drops and either steer the right route or bail. Now the snow was frozen. The sled run was ice. The moonlight revealed some things, but masked others. Doubt came again.
I pushed the doubt aside and leapt on the sled. The iced snow crunched underneath. This was twice, maybe three times, faster than this afternoon. Half way down I hurtled into shadows. I could see nothing, but could feel the sled bouncing back and forth between the sides of the run we had carved that afternoon. Then I could feel it leap out of the track and tear off on a new track! Desperately I tried to blink the snow from my eyes. Blackness loomed ahead. I was off the track and headed for the tree line and the creek and still flying along! I jammed my feet down. Instantly I parted ways with the sled, catapulting up and over in a complete somersault, landing on my back, head pointed down the hill. The deep snow cushioned my landing, and entered every gap in my clothing. Down my neck, in my boots, up my gloves.
I jumped up, brushing the snow off, digging it out of my collar, and whooping and shouting in shear joy of the speed, the dark rush, the blinding snow, the flying dismount of an ending, and my soft landing that wasn't in a tree or the creek. "Clear!" I yelled up the silver hill. Immediately I heard the next sled start to crunch on the snow. Peering up the hill I could see the dark shadow of my son hurtling down. Half way down, three quarters, still on the track! Then a bump, the sled turned sideways and flipped, and an explosion of snow as he plowed sideways into a drift, emerging seconds later covered in snow from head to foot, yelling his delight, and calling to his sister that he was clear. She hurtled down the hill, blasted out of the shadows still in the track, balanced gracefully and expertly on her knees on the sled. She rocketed past, notching a clean run to the very bottom, besting both of us, and leaping lightly off her sled as it coasted to a gentle stop.
We plowed through the deep snow back to the path and raced up the hill again, to hurtle down through the silvery darkness, usually crashing and rolling through the snow, sometimes reaching the bottom still on board and exulting our skill and good fortune. Finally we trudged back to the house, wet and snow covered, but warmed by our hill climbing and our breathless excitement.
I paused before I entered the house, glancing back through the darkness at the moonlit hill. The pale light, the rush in the darkness, the spray of snow, the delighted laughter, the excited shouts of exhilaration, they were all part of me now. Precious memories, but more than memories. This was a night of learning and growth as well as fun and excitement.
What if I had embraced comfort, stayed inside, and decided that wet boots, cold, and snow down my collar was a poor choice compared to a soft couch and warm house? Full moon nights and two feet of snow that has melted slightly on top and frozen to perfect sled riding slickness do not often come together in Virginia. What if I had failed to recognize, and take advantage of, a rare opportunity? The hill was fast, the trees hard, and the creek real. Injury, perhaps terrible injury, was possible, if not very likely. What if my fear of some possible, but not likely "terrible thing" had kept me safe, and sorry?
I stepped back into the warm light of the house, brushing snow off my clothes and pulling off my wet socks from cold feet. A precious night of shared memories were mine to treasure. I had been reminded that those memories are most often found past discomfort, not before. I had been encouraged to watch for rare opportunities, and seize them when they come. I was encouraged to be bold, most things that have worth require risk. All of this gained on a cold, snowy, moonlit night.