Ice Follies: Part One


Or Falling on my Ice–a revisted tale from winters past, told in two parts.

Friday, 06 February 2004. It has rained all night, and today until mid-afternoon.

As I look at the Intellicast radar, Floyd County remains in a tiny tear-drop patch of dark pink freezing rain, a cold enclave that stubbornly refuses to warm up (“warm” here being a relative term) like the rest of southwest Virginia has by now.

Amazingly, we still have power with all this ice. Icicles hang from every branch and the yellowed grass in the yard looks like a  punker’s heavily waxed and spiky head-turf.

It is possible now to walk in the yard and in places where snow remains to crunch into and get a purchase. But we had an emergency and I needed to get across the road and to the raging creek right away–to rescue the plank we use for a bridge–before it washed away in the swelling stream. How hard could that be, I asked.

Very, very hard, it turns out.

The road was as smooth and frictionless as a well-groomed hockey rink, even while inundated by flood waters that rushed down the middle. Almost bald, my winter boots were would keep my feet dry, but the lack of tread spoke of snow angels on the ice. By now, there was no going back.

In a stroke of genius, as I eased past the firewood stacks, I grabbed two hiking sticks to use as outriggers, so surely, with my extra support, I could make it across the road and save the foot-board bridge!

I went to plant my ski-poles on the gravel of the road, but they slipped over the surface like a speed skater’s blades. I tried a half dozen crossings, all the same.

Even where torrents of water now streamed down the rutted gravel road, nothing below had melted, and clear invisible ice glistened under the rushing rain water. No human in boots like mine could walk across this road, I realized as the waters in the creek rose and splashed against our little footbridge.

Think, brain. Use your physical therapist knowledge of locomotion and physics, knucklehead.

“Aha!” brain said. “Lower your center of gravity and broaden your base of support with the hiking sticks.”

And so, I had a plan. In a full squat in the rough snow at the edge of the road, I prepared to reciprocal-duck-walk across the frozen road, using the poles, cross-country fashion as I inched along. That way, if I fell at least I wouldn’t fall very far (although I would get very, very wet).

But on the other hand, if I fell–which seemed highly possible–I wasn’t sure I could get back on my feet out of the freezing rainwater on ice.

What would I push against to stand in this world of zero traction?

Duh! Maybe I should have told Ann I was valiantly heading out to cross the treacherous road to save the plank. But now, if the hero went down, he’d have to stay in place exactly there until she missed him. Surely she’d notice his absence by bedtime. Out the upstairs window at dusk: there–a frozen snow angel splayed out in a gangly X, a martyr-sacrifice to Winter.

Now this is the kind of field-decision I’m sure you are familiar with.

You’ve analyzed the situation and taken stock of your resources. You’ve considered all the alternatives, balanced risks against benefit and created a five-step plan of action. You’ve wisely used the accumulated wisdom of your years of analytical experience and problem-solving know-how. How could you possibly fail?

Then, setting off to do the deed, and at a point generally just past prudence, you utter the all too familiar and futile words to no one: Oh, *_____! And you realize the truth of one of my favorite pithy personal aphorisms: It is easier to get into something than to get out of it. (*expletive of choice) Part Two, tomorrow!

NOTE: Can you say YakTraxs? This was the year we learned how to maintain winter weight-bearing through the soles of the feet and not the base of the spine. It works out much better that way. You need you some of these–as far south as Georgia, if these Polar Vortices get popular.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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