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Sonnenberg’s Hill


Sun, Jan 7th, 2001
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Monday, January 1, 2001

Snow is a necessary evil here in Minnesota, but it isn’t as evil as I was once led to believe. One of my earliest memories is of a snowfall. I recall running around outdoors in the late afternoon of a very gray, very chilly day. I caught the first giant snowflakes in my mouth as they floated like feathers from a sky that seemed to churn with zigzagging snowflakes on their downward journey. My success at devouring snowflakes was quite limited, but I was having a great time trying. Eventually, a well-meaning adult, or maybe a wicked older brother, came by and told me to quit eating snow because it was radioactive and I would get "fallout" and thereby perish from my snow-eating activity. Well, the fun was gone out of that. I was convinced that I had already eaten more snow than was good for me. I doubt that I could ever have eaten enough radioactive snow to do a dental x-ray on a chicken, but I worried about it for years.

Another dining activity brought about by snow, other than eating it directly in the form of snowflakes, snowballs, or snow by the handfuls, was the consumption of icicles. Massive icicles formed on many of our poorly insulated livestock buildings. It was common to break off an icicle as long as we were tall and use it as a pretend sword or spear. As brittle as they were, the swordplay was usually quite brief, but the unbroken hilts still worked well as clubs among my warmongering, yet loving brothers. Smaller icicles served as frozen treats once the big icicles were smashed to bits in mock warfare. The carrot-sized icicles were fun to melt in our mouths until, once again, a well-meaning adult, or vicious brother, pointed out that bird droppings off the roof were undoubtedly a major component of the icicles we were eating. If it wasn’t bird droppings, then radioactivity was certainly present and we would get "fallout" and thereby perish.

There seemed to be no safe way to enjoy the snow other than to keep it out of our mouths so we often went sledding, sliding, and skiing in it. Saturday afternoons, after cleaning the calf pens and chopping the firewood, my brothers and I would often go to the neighbor’s for an afternoon of sledding. It was a mile walk straight east up the township road to Sonnenberg’s Hill. The neighbor kids joined us there. It was the ultimate hill for a toboggan run. It was steep, long, and well grazed. There were no trees and just enough gopher mounds to make good jumps. Adding to the excitement was a creek at the bottom. In one place, the banks of the creek were steep and high enough to be dangerous if we accidentally fell over. In another spot, the creek banks were flat and wide and welcomed us to slide right into open water. It was perfect.

We sledded in a frenzy of craziness. It is amazing that all of us didn’t get our teeth knocked out. We tied two toboggans together and loaded them with kids. We thought it was fun to stand at the bottom of the hill in front of a speeding toboggan to see what the "driver" would do. Two toboggans would start at different points and try to collide on the way down the hill. Races to see who could go the farthest often ended up with one or both sleds in the creek with the riders bailing out just before going in with them. If the snow conditions were right, some industrious soul built a wall of snow blocks that was perfect for crashing a sled through. I doubt that the lack of adult supervision would be tolerable by today’s standards, but we all survived.

After an afternoon’s sledding, we faced the long walk back home. It seemed more than a mile now as it was into the west wind and uphill at that. Our brown cotton gloves were soaked, our four-buckle overshoes were full of snow and our pants legs were frozen stiff to the knees. When we got home, we went straight to the barn and did our chores before going to the house. Going to the house before chores was a mistake. When you sat down, the chill set in. If we could wait until suppertime for dry clothes, we ended up feeling better in the end.

My family and I drove by Sonnenberg’s Hill when we went home for Christmas last week. Part of it has been fenced off. The grass has not been grazed. There are even some small trees poking up where I think they don’t belong. I doubt that there have been kids sledding on it for many years. Everything changes. Some things for the better and some things not. Kids don’t sled like they used to, but they don’t worry about getting "fallout" either.

Wayne Pike

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