Childhood Memories Across Thin Ice

Mike Paulus

March is usually the time of year we stop complaining about the snow and cold so we can free up more time to complain about how dirty the snow has gotten and how wet the cold air is feeling. It’s a time-honored tradition passed down through generations of Wisconsinites who were never taught to dress in layers and buy water-proof shoes.

For me, this time of year will always conjure up memories of walking home from school. I grew up only four blocks from St. James Elementary on Eau Claire’s west side. Every day after school, my friends and I would pull on our boots and one-piece snowsuits and head out on foot. We’d all walk home together, over the snowbanks and across the icy streets.

I can remember trudging home all winter long, but the late winter walking really stands out. As temperatures drop and fluctuate, basic physics and Mother Nature team up to create some extremely kid-tastic features and formations. The kind of stuff kids like me loved to destroy.

For example, you can usually find some nice, fragile ice to stomp on. In case you’ve never noticed, all along our sidewalks, little ice shelves appear in late winter. And honestly, I have no idea how anyone is physically capable of walking by these things without stepping on them – simply for the sheer joy of feeling your body’s weight press down, suddenly crack the ice, and then crush it against the sidewalk – especially that really thin, pale white ice that makes a hollow creaking sound.

On very rare and glorious occasions, you might find part – or even all – of an ice shelf that used to cover a puddle. The puddle is gone, but the ice remains, with a good two or three inches of air beneath it. The ice is just sitting there like a precious gift from Old Man Winter himself, who every so often sees fit to reward the children who truly appreciate all his hard work.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are somehow able to walk by such a unique spectacle and not totally go to town on it with many triumphant stompings and clompings, well ... I now declare that you were never a child. You sprang from the womb a 30-year-old adult. My condolences to your mother.

So get out there and try it. Show your kids. Stomp that late winter ice together. Not all kids get to experience the shifting of the seasons, and this is one way to help them appreciate what the weather in Wisconsin has to offer.

Have fun.