On the last day of the year I took Gnat sledding. Jasperwood sits atop a hill that’s perfect for sledding, but it’s a bit nerve-wracking – if you don’t dig in your heels throughout the journey you shoot into the street, and I cannot think of stupider ways to die. And it takes forever to get back up. I’m good for three trips, maybe four. But in the old neighborhood there’s a modest hill by the creek; my wife took Gnat there after the first big permanent snowfall, and the had a splendid time. So off we went today.

Gnat was looking forward to it all, right up until the moment when she felt her cheeks ripple from G-forces. This hill was pure ice. Winter fun Craig Breedlove style. I dug my heels in to slow us down before we shot over the banks and crashed onto the icy creek, and this sprayed us both with a shower of snow.

“That was fun!” I said in my best that wasn’t entirely unpleasant voice. Gnat seemed to enjoy it, so we did it again. And again. And again. On the fourth try I didn’t brake as hard, and we not only plowed through the little crusty ice-mounds on the side of the pathway, we went straight for the creek at Mach 2. Gnat started pumping her legs to move back, much like Sigourney Weaver when she’s trapped in the medical ward in “Aliens,” thanks to Paul Reiser. Jerk. I stopped the sled well before we reached the creek,, but she was spooked. Didn’t want to do it again. “You go,” she said when we got back to the top of the hill. “I’ll stay here and watch.”

Oh no. That was me as a kid: a faint frisson of fear, and I was done. That will not be her. So I asked a series of question about what she did and did not like about sledding; she answered them with regret and hesitation, all the while tottering around the icy rim with a big dead stick for a cane. Gandalf the Pink. I finally convinced her to take one more go, and down we went. But I think she did it for me.

I pulled her through the woods along the new path. It hadn’t yet been built when we lived on Girard; why, back then <coot voice>
the other side was nuthin’ but mud and dog crap, and you took your feet into yer own hands just steppin’ there. Not literally, of course. Less’n you stepped on something, of course. </coot voice> Now it’s not only paved, there’s decorative metal railings and a retaining wall. Very nice. It keeps the bikers from running into the runners, and both of those groups from flattening the peds. But I do miss the old dirt path. You could run along the path at midnight, hard earth under your feet, the creek burbling along beside you – and the experience was exactly what you would have had one hundred years ago.


Sorry. It’s much nicer now. But it was different in my time, so I had to issue the usual pathetic nostalgic dismissal.

We went over the bridge, which did not look like this. Not at all. Damn.

That's the summertime view, obviously. Remember: I live in the city. The picture above is Minneapolis proper. I pay taxes through every possible orifice to live here. I love this place. Below, the winter view from the bridge:

Back through the woods, back to the sledding place – Gnat saw some other kids sliding down, screaming at the toppermost of their lungs, and I suggested we slide down – and scream louder than those kids.

A challenge! She was up for one more slide. Then I suggested we walk on the ice on the creek, and again: significant trepidation. But a few minutes later we were sliding around, running and skating, falling on our butts, studying the fault lines. This is so much fun, she said, and she hugged my leg. Thank you daddee.

I could have lost the other leg in 03, and that moment would have made the entire year a great success.

Now it’s coming close to midnight. We watched the ball drop in Times Square, which for me will always be the true start of the year. Everyone else is just playing catch up. One of my neighbors just lit off a rocket, God bless him; silence is boring, gunfire is malignantly stupid, but fireworks in December, at a point almost equidistant from the next time we’ll shoot them off – that feels right. But poor Jasper. He hates them. I was standing outside tonight, finishing a small cigar; he was nosing around in the snow following the trails of hidden winter vermin, and bang! A shell detonated down the street. He paused – he froze – one paw up in mid-stride. Fear. Oh, crap. And as I wrote this he has come into my study, ears up, put his paws on my desk and peered out the window – something he never does. I just put my hand on his head to comfort him, and he’s trembling with fear. So. I’m going to go downstairs and turn on the fire and feed him pizza crusts. Comforting a dog, finishing off the pizza, breaking out the 18-year old Macallen – this wasn’t what we intended. We were going to have a few friends over, but everyone and their kids fell ill. Ear infections. Nose infections. Throat infections. They sail the sea of phlegm. So it’s just us – Gnat dreaming in her warm bed, Jasper sitting in a corner of the room depressed, and my wife folding laundry while I prowl the channels looking for news on that British Airways plane at Dulles.

This would have seemed like HELL when I was 21. But what does any 21 year old really know about these things? I’m sorry, but there’s a certain comfort in knowing that whatever may happen in tonight, I will not be throwing up in a restaurant sink around 2 AM while waiting for pancakes. Been there, heaved that. I prefer the comforts of home now. The decorations are boxed and the tree’s on the boulevard; there’s still some peppermint bark left. We’re together. We’re ready.

Here we go, friends. If you thought 03 was interesting, 04 will make it look like 96.

Remember what happened in 96? No? I rest my case.


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