Manure & Ice

I don’t remember why I was chasing the butterscotch cat. It darted out of sunlight into the dusty shadows of my cousins’ barn. I followed at breakneck speed.

My grandparents kept a tidy barn with a floor that wasn’t slick with a film of silt, hay, and manure, but my cousins didn’t hold to such standards. So imagine my surprise when my feet slipped from under me and I found myself falling forward with arms outstretched Superman-style. My flight was not sustainable and I hit the floorboards with a smack and a splat and a long, messy skid.

Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn’t the last time I would rush into a place I didn’t need to be, chasing after something that wasn’t mine.

I also had a wintertime adventure at that farm. There was enough of a hill for sledding, and we made the most of it. With a running start, we could get up enough speed to make it across a flat stretch of yard, and then out onto the frozen duck pond.

The more we sledded, the faster the track became, until we were getting as far as halfway across the pond. Late in the day I decided to really throw myself into it and see what would happen. I hit the packed snow at the perfect angle and velocity. I gripped the steering wings of the Flexible Flyer, and held my boots up to keep from dragging on the track behind me. The sled’s red blades kicked up bits of snow and ice that pelted my face and made my eyes water.

When I reached the edge of the pond I could feel that I had enough speed to make it all the way across the ice. I squinted into the stinging draft, scanning for a good place to stop. The far side of the pond was thick with dead reeds that poked up through the mottled ice like big brown straws. It was swampy and not solidly frozen, but this realization crystallized in my mind a blink too late.

I crashed into the reeds and broke through the ice into scummy pond water. Fortunately, it was too shallow for anything disastrous to happen. I was drenched and chilled, and done sledding for the day, but otherwise none the worse for the wear.

Bookend stories of reckless abandon that ended badly, but not catastrophically: I keep retelling them, trying to decipher their meaning. Does wisdom require me to attenuate my adventurous impulses? Should I frame my curiosity within the bandwidth of safe outcomes? Can I touch the sacred without making direct contact with the stuff of the earth? Is there any faith without danger?