The Sledding Hill

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,

Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,

Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air

Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,

And veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end.

From: Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Snow-Storm”


I have lived in the same house in Southern Michigan since I was four years old. It’s an old 1940s home with large windows in the sitting room. Every winter, the first flurries would flit past the cold glass. My brothers and I would press our noses close against the pane, fogging it up with short, steamy breaths. Those first few flakes of snow never failed to prompt the question: Do you think there will be enough snow by this afternoon to go to Thompson Hill?

The sledding hill is only two streets from our house. It is a good-sized hill. The lawn at the bottom of the slope stretches to the highway, and you can see the veterinarian’s pony farm sprawled on the other side. There might be only a dusting of snow on the ground, the bright tufts of grass still sticking through in patches. Yet our childlike hope clung to the idea that it would be possible to go to the sledding hill if we only waited a little longer, or hoped a little harder.

The first snow hardly ever leaves enough to cover the hill, but that doesn’t stop the neighborhood children. Stubborn souls slowly scoot down a dusty hill, leaving trails of upturned grass and frozen dirt in their wakes. Everyone knows the best snow is “sticking snow”—but not so powdery that your sled kicks the fluff into your face, where it melts and runs in little rivers past your warm coat collar and down your neck. When the snow fully falls, it’s like magic. It falls, and suddenly the world is softer and quieter. Inches of it rest in the branches of the old maple tree. The sound of plodding steps fall muffled against the pillows and piles of snow.

It could be a Saturday Evening Post picture: two boys and a girl drag their sleds in a line in the fresh snow. With a shout, they run to join the throng of other neighborhood children.

On the sledding hills, there are no rules. You don’t have to stay in your lane, and no one conducts traffic. It’s you, your sled, and the white frontier. All else simply exists as an obstacle to speed and distance. In the eyes of a little child, Thompson Hill feels like a mountain. As you fly down the hill, perhaps you bump into other children or accidently skid over a ramp made by a teenager. And, suddenly, you wonder if you will end up in the hospital when you fall off.  

I remember collapsing in despair at the thought of having to climb up that hill after an especially quick ride down. I imagined one heavy step after another. The unfair thing about sledding hills is that the ride to the bottom is faster than the walk up. You find yourself in a puddle of snow pants, stuffing gloved fistfuls of fresh snow into your mouth when your mother is too busy talking to the other mothers to notice—and the cold, fresh taste makes your cheeks turn rosy and your eyes water.

Hobbies and pastimes, games and playthings, all play a part in a grander design preparing children for adulthood. To throw oneself at the hills of life with the fearless abandon of a child with a sled—that is the lesson of Thompson Hill.

Thompson Hill was a stage for creativity. Huddles of children would brainstorm new ways to stack each other on sleds and launch themselves down the hill. Each idea became more thrilling or dangerous than the last. Gradually, ten years of winter sledding adventures blend into memories. As the winters continued to pass, and more siblings followed in tow, I would go to the hill with my brothers under the guise of “supervising.”

And suddenly it is no longer cool to scream “geronimo” at the top of your lungs and launch yourself at the world on a plastic purple saucer. Suddenly, snow pants count as an egregious fashion faux pas, and you smile through the clammy, cold squeeze of soaked denim. But sometimes, after enough convincing, your brothers have you embracing the desire to sled again, and you don’t care who watches.  

You laugh as the eighty-year old lady in a knit sweater and ski cap climbs on a wooden toboggan to “show them how it’s done.” Children clap as she slides to a stop and shakes the snow off her mittens. For some, sledding never becomes un-cool.  

The day is done, and the hill has been climbed for the last time, and you are overwhelmingly ready for a cup of hot chocolate with extra marshmallows. Climbing onto the sofa, you sniffle. Your sweatpants are still warm, but your snow pants hang to dry. Your body is tired and sore, but you’re already praying for a snow day and dreaming of when you can return in the morning.

As the ground frosts again and the neighborhood kids wait for that first “sticking snow,” the memories resurface. Now, the icy slopes have simply been replaced by the slides and climbs of daily life. Sometimes the snow gets in our eyes. We still feel frustrated and cold. But now we are frustrated by the five papers left to write and cold because we can’t afford better heating in our off-campus house or warmer sweaters on our college budgets.

At Hillsdale, our professors tell us “get your boots on,” and my mind immediately jumps back to these snowy days on the sledding hill. As I see the kids on the block gearing up for the first snowstorm, I can’t help but think that these are the days we trained for on the sledding hill.  


Morgan Channels is a junior studying English and French.  

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