After what feels like maybe thirty minutes, I struggle to lift my legs out of the snow, both from the awe of another Pennsylvania sunset and from the terrible freeze that had begun corrupting me. The snow is omnipresent, not a single spot of green or brown earth emitted from anyplace. From this corner of this field, I can see nearly a mile and a half of spotless field turned to a tundra. It’s amazing, and the sunset casts orange and pink shades in the air carelessly. Despite the sub-freezing temperatures, it has been worth it to come out here, but with the wind picking back up and snow waves forming everywhere, I gotta start heading home. It isn’t a far walk, only two miles, so I’m not too worried. I feel for the beanie under my hoodie (which was under my coat) to adjust it, snugly, and make my way home. Pushing myself up and, against gravity and fatigue, getting onto my two legs, I began my little movement home.
I take each step carefully, because I know there are many spots out here where groundhog holes are covered. I have to walk down the slope of this field and prepare to cross Whitmer’s Pond, a little thing maybe the size two eight-story buildings lying side by side. The walk down is only a few hundred yards, and downhill, but in about five inches of snow it’s all a fight. Suddenly my foot falls through the snow and I nearly roll it. “Holy hell,” I said in surprise. I pull it out and keep on walking. I finally reach the bottom of the slope and I can make out the top of Whitmer’s pond. I figure it will be easier to walk across it than around it, so as I approach I press with one foot and feel for fault, find none, and take a step. And then another. And I begin to walk across without issue. It is beautiful this time of the year because the snow that falls on Whitmer’s Pond is easily thrown back up by any stray breeze that finds its way near here. The pond is almost bare except the flakes that lay momentarily, only to be taken away again.
When I finally touch back onto the ground, it is getting dark quickly with only the twilight well after sunset to keep me company. I can feel the cold seep through my two layers of pants and I pick up speed against the resistance, trying to keep my body from becoming a semi-mobile ice sculpture. Not to say this storm is bad- once, my dad Mark and I got stuck in a ditch about twenty miles away coming home from my aunt’s house. We slid on ice and lost control, but we had enough food and stuff to make due. Dad wanted to wait for the storm to pass, so we went about fifteen feet into this patch of woods and used it to take shelter from the wind and there, for the next two hours, we built an igloo by hand. I remember that my dad cut a hole in the top of this shelter and brought in a little bit of bark he could peel off of a dead elm and we cooked bits of this deer steak my uncle Mitch gave Dad for home. When the storm finally got better, Dad called a friend to tow us out of the side of the road, and we left that igloo there. When we went back to Aunt Lexi’s house a month later for Christmas, the igloo, or at least most of it, was still there.
I try to keep my pace going, but now I’m out from the flat of the valley and I’ve got to go back uphill, through more snow than the other side gave me. A foot would sink into the white, and I for a second think it might not come back out, only to be surprised that it came out every time. There are trees starting up this hill, about halfway up, and I know that once I make it into the trees the rest is easy. Trees stop a lot of the snow and make for easy walking, nearly the rest of the way home. It’s a matter of the next hundred feet that I care about right now. My chest, my head, and my core are hot as can be, but my face and hands are frozen solid now. I’m not worried that I can’t make it home, just whether before or after frostbite begins to take bits of me. Sweat forms around my forehead, runs a little, and then freezes on my eyebrows in big chunks.
I reach the first tree and grab it, pulling myself up. I try to think about other things right now, when the walk is a little bit harder. Thoughts float about and I try to embrace the disorder. I’ve got tests to prepare for, I know that. I think quickly about math, but calculus is easy for me and I have nearly no issue there. Mr. Aarons says I’m one of the most naturally gifted he’s had. I’ve always been a good student, mostly because my parents tutored me a lot as a younger kid. They would teach me math before the schools thought it was appropriate for me to learn it- I had algebra understood mostly before going into seventh grade, and I could explain trigonometric functions by the end of sixth grade. I take pride in that kind of thing, and I keep pushing myself to this day in everything. I tutor some kids at school, I started the chess club, and I help run the math competitions we do every year for the middle school. When you work hard, I’ve learned, opportunities just come your way.
Then I think about Adrian, my little brother. He was going to come, but he wasn’t allowed because he is just recovering from a cold. I’ve explained before that being cold and having a cold are not related, but to no revelation. We come outside a lot, especially this time of the year. We set up forts and do the whole “Capture the flag” game out here. We take up probably half a mile for our game- we take it very seriously. Despite his best efforts, I always end up wining. I’ll give it to him- he is very determined. He tries to learn about anything he can, tries anything new, and isn’t afraid to be bad at something. He usually isn’t, though. He’s an impressive kid already. Ten years old and basically has his multiplication down pat. He’s had it pretty well skilled since he was eight. Teachers always refer to him as a sponge, but man, he really is. It’s tremendously powerful how much effort he can put into one activity, but then just become a kid all over again in an instant.
Then my mind crosses over to home, where I know warm food waits for me and I can’t wait to shove it into the abyss that is my stomach. I’m quite a food-fiend, eating basically anything in my way. Probably because I walk everywhere, or bike when a walk is too exhausting. I used to date a girl who lived about fifteen minutes away, and during the summer we were inseparable. I would ride my bike to her house essentially every day. Then I learned that riding my bike everywhere was more reliable than waiting on my parents to get down showering or cooking or whatever and take me. So, my bike and my legs are my allies in life. Though right about now, while my skin turns blue, my legs might not be my best of friends.
At the top of the hill, I can finally see my house sunken a bit away. Now the walk’s easy, just a matter of keeping forward. The house is kinda big, with four bedrooms and a big living room and three separate bathrooms, one for us kids, one for the parents, and a general bathroom underneath our staircase. I could see two bedroom lights on – Adrian is probably playing Bone Raider in his room and Vanessa, my step-sister, is probably doing one of her bug-castings, feeding one of her pet fish, or reading. During this break, I swear she’s left her room maybe twice. Adrian, the social butterfly, probably has only left other people along twice this break. I get to the house, kick my boots against a little boulder nearby to get the snow off, and open the door to go inside.