When a sled hill comes to the prairieGrowing up, I had no idea how flat our piece of Lyman County really was. The evidence was all around me. I just never gave it a thought. The lane leading from our farm yard was slightly inclined, but not so much anyone would mistake it for a hill.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Growing up, I had no idea how flat our piece of Lyman County really was.
The evidence was all around me. I just never gave it a thought. The lane leading from our farm yard was slightly inclined, but not so much anyone would mistake it for a hill. If I stood in the middle of the farm yard, and if a shelterbelt and a few isolated cottonwood trees hadn’t been in the way, I could have looked a mile or more in all directions. That’s pretty flat.
The only time the landscape became an issue was in the winter when I wanted to try out a new Flexible Flyer sled that came under the tree at Christmas. (Speaking of which, I just Googled Flexible Flyer and found a site that is knocking $20 off the normal asking price of $99.99. Can a simple — if incredibly fast and durable — sled cost $100?)
We often had snow during the winter when I was a kid. We just didn’t have any slanted snow. For the most part, if a kid wanted to use a sled around our farm, he settled for some pretty small potatoes for hills. I can remember hauling the sled down to the stock dam in the north pasture to slide again and again down the backside of the dam bank. I got a run of maybe 15 feet or so, and it was rather an unsatisfactory run, given the cottonwood saplings, dead weeds and accumulated junk that littered the area.
What I lived for in those days was the sort of storm that blew through South Dakota during this past Christmas week. The heavy, sustained snowfall and the driving wind created many, many drifts around my town and, I’m sure, around your town, too. When I left the state’s Emergency Operations Center on the Saturday evening after Christmas, the drift to the north side of the sidewalk was maybe 10 feet high. It was an imposing mound of snow.
For all the snow we had in Pierre, I know that some of farm country had two and three times as much by the time the wind had finished blowing the stuff down here from maybe halfway to Dickinson, N.D. I talked about that with some other people who grew up on South Dakota farms, and we all had the same images in our heads. We saw drifts that reached the eaves of the garage or machine shed, maybe even the edge of the roof of the barn.
When the wind was just right back on our farm, the drift behind the shed next to the garage would grow and grow, spreading across the ground as it rose into the air. By the time the snow was blowing steadily up the slanted roof of the shed, the foot of the drift reached out toward the pasture gate, a pretty fair distance and a creation that looked for the entire world like a ski slope. By the time the wind let up, that drift was packed solid as an asphalt roadway. You could walk on it, run on it, stomp on it for all you were worth, and you couldn’t break through the surface.
What you could do was slide down it on your Flexible Flyer, with its lacquered brown finish and bright red highlights. It was a fast track, down the roof and onto the drift, and the angle was such that I was rapidly approaching the barbed-wire fence of the north pasture just as I slid to the flat ground at the end of the snow drift. I had to haul on the steering bar for all I was worth to turn east and slide along the fence line between the pasture and the shelter belt until I ran out of speed.
It would be cool to say I always managed that. The truth is, more than one run ended with my knuckles rapping the gate post or my parka sleeve catching the bottom strand of barbed wire. I lost some stuffing from the sleeve of the parka, and maybe some skin from my knuckles. But when a sledding hill comes to the prairie, a kid has to make the most of it.