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OPINION: Do you head for the hills during the winter?

When I was a young boy, the snow and wind two days ago, the first of the winter season for many of us, would have had me jumping up and down and racing to the garage to dig the old Flexible Flyer sled out of the far corner and head for the (sledding) hills.

I don't care what people say about tropical breezes and sandy beaches, snow and sleds and kids are an essential part of South Dakota life.

I'm much older now, though. I looked out the window every now and then during last Monday's weather to see if any of the stuff was sticking to the driveway and if the howling wind was creating significant drifts. I located a shovel just in case, and I checked weather radar to see if the forecast from the previous evening (1-3 inches) was coming true. I also thought about icy sidewalks, slippery highways and the general nuisance that snow brings to the Plains.

I checked the calendar and the outside thermometer a couple of times, too, noting that this cold and snow arrived the first week in December. That's a long, long way from the end of March. Already, it seems like it's been forever since I took the boat out of the water, and it looks like forever again until I can slide it back into the river.

OK, that's part of the deal when a guy chooses to live in a part of the country with several distinct and very different seasons, each with its own beauty and joy, each with its own burdens and bothers.

"Don't you ever want to go south for the winter?'' I'm sometimes asked by friends who, like me, are aging in retirement.

"Not really,'' I always answer. "Seems like a big hassle. Besides, I like winter.''

I do, too, for the most part. I could do without bitter cold and biting wind and heavy snow, but I like the looks of the land covered in a light blanket of white. No, it doesn't look that great when it's on a highway I'm traveling, but my dad raised me to understand that "you can't have everything, son, might as well accept that while you're young.''

For more than seven decades, then, I've accepted winter. It makes spring terribly sweet, and there always comes a day sometime in March when I get a sense of satisfaction that I've survived, that all of South Dakota has survived, another winter. Spring is the reward, and so are summer and fall, I suppose.

On the other hand, winter is its own reward, too. The sharp change of seasons — truly sharp on Monday after a long string of clean autumn skies and soft colors — brings a time of high, thin clouds or total overcast, winds with an edge and temperatures that pop a guy's eyes open when he steps out of the house and takes his first lungful of the new day. Every outing, whether downtown to the stores or just out to the mailbox in the late afternoon, is an adventure.

Winter used to be a wonderful reward when I was a kid. As I said, the first snowfall would send me scurrying for the sled, digging it out from behind the summer accumulation of junk with enthusiasm, envisioning long, mock-terrifying rides down steep, slick slopes the size of mountains. Never mind that in those early years back on our farm, hills were hard to find. Any slopes I conquered were modest mounds of drifted snow that bumped up a few feet above the rest of the landscape.

(Here's an oddity about my part of South Dakota. Think it's flat out here? Try riding it on a bicycle. On the other hand, think it's hilly? Try riding it on a sled.)

The fast-moving storm brought back enough childhood memories to make me happy for a while. It didn't bring enough snow to force me to take down a shovel, though, and I didn't have to venture out on the highway during the worst of the weather.

I've reached an age at which that's more than enough to make me happy.