Big fun sledding on the little hill

Published 10:16pm Sunday, February 26, 2012

As I was driving north on Bridge Avenue one day this past week, I looked out across the slough in my old neighborhood and thought back to the many days I had spent hanging out at “the bridge” and of all the fun we had there as kids.

I had to wonder just how many hours I spent at that bridge with my friends or exploring the wilds of the slough.

Winter time always seemed to be the season that challenged our creativity more than any other. None of us kids were the type to hang out indoors doing nothing when we could be out having snowball fights, building snow forts, exploring the wilderness of the slough or searching for a new place for sledding.

The hill that we frequented as kids is still there on the south edge of the slough just a couple of hundred yards from where the old bridge once was. We ventured out to that hill on more than one occasion to see if that steep little hill could offer any fun for a bunch of adventurous kids. Although the hill wasn’t very long it was extremely steep, and it was quite a challenging climb to the top for such a short thrill. The ride down was swift but once you reached the bottom it was short-lived because of the cat tails and slough grass. It was quite a jaunt from home because there was just no easy way to get there. This, however, seemed to be the part that we took as a challenge, and as kids, we were all about challenge.

What better way to spend a big part of your Saturday than trudging through the slough on a way to just another great adventure? I have mentioned it before that when a kid’s imagination is allowed to flourish, many good things are created. Whenever I ventured out into the slough I always felt like some sort of an adventurer and sometimes you could be that boyhood hero that you always admired. In the winter time I was usually Sgt. Preston of the Yukon or a frontiersman from the Northwest Territories fighting Indians and bad guys.

On almost every trip we seemed to spot our share of wildlife, and probably the most memorable for me was this large white owl that on one occasion had perched on a tree not far from where we were sledding. I watched as it swooped down to catch a field mouse or some other furry critter that had ventured too far out into the open. This was nature at its best, and I could only marvel at the sight of nature’s cycle of life in action.

As we would work our way through the slough to the hill there were many signs of life in the snow; rabbit and pheasant tracks were all over and occasionally you would scare one up which probably scared me more than the critter that I had flushed out of its cozy abode. I can still remember the excitement when we’d spot a set of tracks that we were convinced belonged to a red fox or some other critter that we considered dangerous.

Just spending a large part of the day in that slough had many rewards but of course there was always a downside. Hands and feet would eventually get cold because the gloves would only stay dry for so long and then there was the matter of the frozen pants legs. After so much sliding your snow covered pants would also get wet and your cuffs would bang together like a couple of pieces of wood. If you weren’t careful the old five-buckle overshoes would get snow down inside of them and things would really start to take a turn. I still get goose bumps when I think of the pain that came with warming my half frozen feet by the old heat register. If I have forgotten most of the other painful experiences of my youth that one is forever etched into my memory.

Once you were wet, cold and quite a trudging distance from home, it was time to call it a day. I have mentioned before that there was always the saving face thing where none of us wanted to be the first to give in but there were ways around that. Having a pre-set time that your mom said you just had to be home by was always a good excuse. Unfortunately nobody carried a watch or had any of the modern conveniences of today’s world so you had to guess by how high or low the sun was in the sky. There was another good excuse for leaving, “I think I hear your mom calling” and everyone would listen for that phantom call and eventually it would be agreed that it was time to call it a day. It was sort of a been there, done that kind of thing. We came, we saw, we conquered, and now we knew what it was like to slide down a hill we had never visited before.

Except for a snow saucer I only had one sled in my entire childhood and that was a Radio Flyer, it was the shorter version but it worked quite well for me. I still have that old sled hanging in the garage and every once in a while I’ll pause and look at it and think of some of the good times that sled had shown me. I have long since grown too big (and old) to use it but it sure is fun to remember the good times that old sled and I shared.

Our youth of today need to be encouraged to explore the outdoors and use their imagination to create some fun of their own. Whether it is fishing, hunting, camping or just spending time exploring nature, teaching them to experience the outdoors will build our future sportsmen and women of tomorrow.

Until next time, play safe, watch out for thin ice, good fishing and enjoy the Minnesota outdoors experience.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears each Sunday in the Tribune.