Winter Chills, Thrills and Spills


I had no business getting on that sled.

A middle-aged Navy wife and mother of three, I should’ve been at the bottom of the hill taking pictures. But when my base neighbor handed me a red saucer after I’d been cooped up watching Jonas drop a foot and a half of snow on the hill behind our house, I really had no choice in the matter.

I’d come outside to let our yellow Lab, Moby, out for a romp with all the sledders, and that’s when another military spouse approached me holding two plastic saucers.

I probably should have politely declined the invitation to sled with her, but Navy wives are known for their camaraderie, and I wasn’t about to let her down. Placing the sled under my backside, I plopped down and lifted my boots in the air.

The rest is a bit of a blur.

Halfway down the steep embankment, Moby and his head — which is kind of like a cinder block covered with fur — came from out of nowhere. BAM! After the big cartoon star in my head disappeared, I realized, he was trying to pull me off the sled by my chin-strapped hat.

At the bottom of the hill, Moby finally pulled me free of the saucer, ripping a hole in my new coat and nearly strangling me in the process. But in his well-intentioned pea-brain, he had saved my life, and treats were in order.

Before I had a chance to realize what had happened, I heard the crowd of sledders laughing hysterically. I laughed too, until an hour later, when I saw the bright purple shiner over my right eye.

And you know the strangest part? I’d probably do it again. In a heartbeat. What kind of idiot am I that, at 49 years of age, I think the ten-second saucer ride that produced a black eye was a good choice?

There must be something deep in our human psyche that compels us to thrill-seek in the face of obvious risks of great bodily harm. Every winter freeze, we strap on skis, skates, and sleds, and willingly place our fragile flesh and bones at the mercy of gravity and frozen water, knowing full well what might happen.

We could blame El Niño for our idiocy. After all, this mysterious warming of equatorial Pacific ocean water that affects trade winds, jet streams and weather systems has arguably caused blizzards, hurricanes, tropical cyclones, drought, mudslides, poor crop yield, floods, famine, and dying coral reefs. Why not blame him for our stupidity too?

Those of you stationed in warmer parts of the world like California, Florida and Hawaii shouldn’t be so quick to pass judgment. Even though the only snow you see is in a cone and has blue raspberry syrup on it, you are not immune to weather-related thrill-seeking mishaps.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago in sunny California, 48-year-old surfing legend Garrett McNamara broke his arm and dislocated his shoulder falling off the face of a record breaking 50-foot wave that was brought on by El Niño-related storms.

Unfortunately, El Niño can’t take all the heat (see what I did there?) for our poor choices. Apparently, the human drive to danger is not related to extreme weather events, but rather, to our brain function. In an article entitled “Thrill-Seeking: What Parts of Your Brain Are Involved?” Susan Heitler, PhD states that highly addictive “happy chemicals” such as adrenaline and dopamine are triggered when we sense danger or a thrilling challenge.

I’m not so sure chemicals or El Niño had anything to do with my decision to get on that red saucer. It could’ve been a pathetic cry for attention, a life-long need to fit in, lingering childhood insecurities, or maybe deep-seeded fears of the inevitability of death.

Or maybe, I was just being an idiot.

Regardless, tomorrow, black eye and all, I’m going on a ski trip with my family, even though none of us is coordinated enough to avoid falling repeatedly. But we are smart enough to know one thing at least: We’ll never let all that tedious science get in the way of our wintertime fun.



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