THE SLIPPERY SLOPE
It is usually around early December when I begin
whining about the weather. A couple of days of rain and a drop of
temperature into the Ď40s and Iím a mess.
Not anymore. I have found perspective.
I recently came back to beautiful, toasty Northern
California after spending a few weeks north of Montreal, Quebec, where my
wifeís family is holed up, waiting for rescue.
It is indeed a winter wonderland. Everyone walks
around wondering what the hell theyíre doing there. That is, if they can
walk at all on the frozen sidewalks.
I realize I sound smug and arrogant, and I
apologize. My wife, who was born and raised in Quebec, has certainly pointed
that out to me, usually when I demand that she thank me for whisking her
away to California 35 years ago.
"I would have left anyway," she always
would say. "You had nothing to do with it."
Probably true. But where would she have gone? The
best any Canadian could do to avoid winter is Vancouver, and all it does is
rain there. Nope, she needed me and someday, sheíll thank me.
Meanwhile, we trek back to Quebec every year to see
family, but usually itís in the summer. Thatís when the bugs are out and
it rains every other day. Or every day, depending on the month.
This year we went over Christmas, and it was a
fascinating experience. I hadnít been there in the winter for a long time,
and I had forgotten how miserable the weather could be.
Luckily, we hit a heat wave, and the temperature
soared into the 30ís. Unfortunately, that turned the snow into a freezing
rain, which I had never seen before and hope never to see again.
"Iím walking over to the store to get the
paper," I announced to my mother-in-law on the first morning of the
She looked at me with newfound admiration.
"Are you sure you want to? Itís very slippery outside."
I looked outside. It was raining, for Peteís
sake, not hailing. What damage could a little rain do?
I stepped out the front door and my feet went seven
different directions. I have never, ever felt a surface so slippery, and Iíve
been on many an ice rink. I fortunately grabbed a railing before I went
My mother-in-law was watching from the window,
amusing herself. She opened the door and handed me a cane with spikes on the
bottom to stick into the ice. Then she showed me her slip-on shoes, which
also had spikes on the bottom.
I reached for the shoes, but she pulled them away.
"Too bad these wonít fit you," she said with a chuckle as she
closed the door. "Good luck."
At least I had the cane. The store was about a
block away. I planted the cane and took a tentative step. I made it, so I
took another. After about five minutes of death-defying shuffling I made it
to the little ramp that led up to the store. It might as well have been Mt.
The cane was worthless in the face of such an
obstacle. I was worthless. No one was around. I pictured myself falling and
freezing to death before anyone noticed.
I could see the headlines: "Clueless
Californian Dies on Trek to Store." It wasnít going to happen. I
needed to find a way to survive.
I backtracked, found a snowbank that hadnít
frozen over yet, and climbed through it. That led me to the main road, which
had been heavily sanded, preventing the ice from forming. From there I
entered the store, bypassing the ramp.
No one in the store seemed impressed that I had
made it, but they probably had spikes on their shoes. But when I made it
back to the house with the morning paper, I felt like a conquering hero.
"You went out in that weather," said my
wife, who had just woken up. "Are you nuts?"
I looked out the window. There was snow everywhere, and
it was raining. It was 8 a.m. and it looked like it was 6 p.m. Dark and
"Thank me," I replied.
No response, just a roll of the eyes. But then again, she
hadnít been outside yet.