Monday, March 20, 2006

The Hill of Death

Most people think that with Spring Break comes beaches, sand and sun but in Alaska no one has delusions about warmer temperatures. While everyone else is watching that dumb groundhog back in February, debating about whether they’ll be six more weeks of winter no one here pays the slightest attention—heck, only six weeks more of winter would be a blessing! Don't kid yourself, we've never had spring by March 9th, we're lucky to have daylight let alone grass. There’s never been a winter yet that left that early—May 9th is more like it.

But if you can’t have spring the second best thing is to have snow and plenty of it. For a while there in February the weather warmed up, melting most of the snow then it inevitably cycled back, freezing everything up again leaving alot of frozen brown lawns and piles of moose droppings. The kids hated it because there was nothing to do, what are you going to do outside when it’s cold but no snow? They sat inside and whined a lot.

When Spencer was small we had a winter like that—cold but no snow—until one weekend in December when we finally came up with two inches of powder covering the ground. Spencer couldn't wait to get out there and try out all the appropriate winter activites so he was soon suited up (he'd have had less gear if he'd going into space) with long underwear, snow pants, parka, neck warmer, gloves, hat, on up until he was like a little Michelin man with two eyes and a lot of Gortex. He waddled out the door, ready to conquer the elements, while I sat on the couch watching from the window and observing his mind at work.

I know him so well it was like having a little bubble suspended above his head showing his every thought. He wanted to make a snow angel and had found a clear patch of snow in the middle of the lawn, the first virgin patch of the winter, then eyed it carefully. Turning around to face the street he stretched out his arms and stiffened in anticipation, closing his eyes. I saw the chain of events and knew where it was headed but before I could open the door and warn him he’d already thrown himself backward and down he fell.

Expecting to land in a soft, fluffy poof of snow that would enable him to complete the perfect snow angel he fell through the inch or two of dust barely covering our dead, frozen lawn and hit the ground flat on his back hard enough to bounce. It must have been like concrete and I winced in vicarious pain. He probably blacked out for a second because it took a bit for him to come to and realize what had happened. Then he sat up, dazed and disoriented, swaying gently while the spots cleared. After he got his air back he stood up and not even turning around to look at his mutant snow angel that looked more like a chalk outline at a crime scene, he stomped back in the house, somewhat humbled, to wait the winter out.

Now that there’s snow the first thing the kids are clambering for is to go sledding on the Hill of Death, so named because of our many near-death experiences thereon (plus calling it the Hill of Near-Death just doesn’t sound that impressive). It’s a long, twisting hill on the bluff overlooking the ocean noteworthy for the velocity one can attain and the navigational skill required to reach the bottom alive. Personally, I’d have to say it deserves the name just for the way my geriatric thighs burn while hiking up and pulling a sled and a three year-old who’s given up the climb and insists on being carried. Pain? You’ll beg for death before it’s over. But the thing that has caused the most problems is the set of train tracks near the top of the run—or rather the train that occasionally runs on those tracks.

Andrew took the kids to sled there years ago and a train came by while Grace was on the other side of the tracks though he couldn’t see where she was. It was one of those moments of terror you look back on as a parent and know that was a time when you were completely terrified. She was well back from the tracks but Andrew didn’t realize this and when the train came by he could account for the boys but only knew that Grace had been on the other side. Waiting for the train to pass was more than he could handle even though she turned up perfectly fine on the other side once it had passed. The whole experience scared him and Spencer enough that they didn’t go back for a year or two. Follow that story up with the time not long after they finally did go back and got rear-ended at a stoplight on the way home.

The whole place is full of scrapes and bumps and accidents like some local haunted house—it’s just bad luck, bad karma, bad something but the run is so great we inevitably overlook history and common sense just to get another great run in. Every time it snows it ever beckons us with its siren’s call, so you can be sure that if the snow is falling and school is out they just won’t be satisfied until they’ve once more conquered the Hill of Death—and at the rate the snow is coming down we’ll be bringing sleds to our Memorial Day picnic.


Anonymous said...

Where is this "hill of death" you speak of? My husband and I live in Anchorage, and we are always looking for good sledding hills. This one sounds like fun!

scribbit said...

You crack me up--do I detect some Seinfeld influence there or is it my overactive love of the show?

To get to the Hill of Death go south on Old Seward, take Ocean View Drive west, follow it as it curves to the right, then at the three-way stop turn left and continue on Ocean View Drive over the train tracks. Go down the hill and turn on the first left toward the inlet. You'll start seeing nice houses and go straight toward the inlet until it dead ends at a park. Can't miss it.