This winter, get out of the house and stay there

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By Brett McNeil

Columnist

The trail is a frozen pond.

Behind the North Riverside Village Commons in Commons Park, the scenic fountain ponds of summer are thick with ice beckoning skaters to take a spin under the gray skies of mid-winter.

Only a few take up the invitation. Which is too bad.

As much as I enjoy hogging the open ice it's a puzzlement that so few people – so few kids -- are in the park on a 25-degree day with the snow beginning to fall in a Midwestern winter scene so classic it seems staged for the cameras.

For all the absurd weather porn we endure – the hyperventilating Doppler SuperMaxx warnings of Killer Kold and impossible, impassable conditions – winter is a gift to be celebrated. It is our most private season in the outdoors, the time of year when so many others choose to hibernate or, worse, complain about the weather.

If you are already "done with winter," in the middle of February in Chicago, you are a fool and you are a masochist. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. You are punishing yourself with unrealizable, stubborn fantasies of how things should be rather than how they are, and you are forgoing one of the truly unique features of life in this latitude.

Until we are all living in a burnt-out and desertified "Eaarth," we still have winter and the Cardinal Rule of Winter is to embrace it and find ways to celebrate a season that occupies one-third of our year. Finding ways to look forward to winter is revelatory and life-altering and offers permission to enjoy living where you live rather than searching for budget peak-season accommodations in suburban Phoenix or hellhole Florida.   

Buy some skates and learn to use them. Or some snowshoes. Or cross-country skis. Or even just some warm boots for walking in the snow. Take the Orlando airfare and buy some decent coats. And long underwear.

Two weeks ago, a young North Riverside family was picnicking on the ice with a group of friends. Great idea. The dad read my mind: "Where is everyone?" he asked while we passed a hockey puck back and forth.

Part of the answer was offered by a woman who walked by and asked, "Aren't you scared?"

Of falling in?

I explained the ice was more than a foot thick – enough to support a pick-up truck – and the pond is about two feet deep in any event.

To the great credit of village officials, this kind of old-fashioned pond skating is OK behind village hall. And last weekend I also saw skaters on a little ersatz rink in Riverside's Swan Pond Park. (The Big Ball Park rink is great but is not a pond.)

One thought that would probably be vetoed by the fun-hating lawyers and insurance carriers: Why not maintain a couple skatable areas on both North Riverside ponds and rent skates? Offer some lessons, for kids and adults, when the weather allows. And sell some hot chocolate under the gazebo.

Doing so would greatly expand access to the park and the outdoors in winter for all village residents.

Providing that kind of access accords with the Second Rule of Winter which is: Get out of the house and stay there!

Trail Conditions explores the woods, waters and trails out our back doors. Brett McNeil lives in North Riverside. Write to him at brett@rblandmark.com.

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