When I was a 13-year-old living in a south St. Louis suburban neighborhood, I woke one winter morning to a world encased in ice. Sidewalks, driveways, streets, every blade of grass—all coated in about a half-inch of water in its solid phase. 

The scene outside our living room picture window was both delightful and daunting.

Large trees slumped. Some imploded with a loud CRACK! under the weight of all that ice.A friend from school had spent the night, and together we hatched what seemed, in the moment, to be a brilliant plan: cross-country ice skating!  I had been taking lessons that winter so my skates were close at hand, and we also found an older pair in the closet that fit my friend’s feet (she was shorter than me, with smaller feet). Score!

We thundered down the stairs from my upstairs bedroom, swaddled in parkas, scarves, hats, and gloves, through the small house to the backdoor. My mom was busy in the kitchen, so she didn’t see the skates tucked under our arms and raise an alarm… she just yelled, “Be careful!” and something else I didn’t hear because Cindy and I were laughing in anticipation of our great adventure.

Our great miscalculation, actually.

Recent research suggests that it takes much longer for the brain to mature than was once assumed. A full understanding of the concept of cause and effect, and the ability to run virtual simulations in one’s head to anticipate consequences, doesn’t happen until about 25 years of age.

I guess that’s as good an explanation as I’m going to find for why two reasonably intelligent teens didn’t realize that there’s only one answer to the equation:

hills + ice + skates = X? 

We spent the rest of the afternoon inside mulling over the results of our experiment safely ensconced near the fireplace, repeatedly and gingerly shifting our bruised behinds on their piles of pillows as we watched the 1972 Winter Olympics figure skating competition.

That wasn’t the last time in my life I made a bad decision that resulted in a hard fall to Earth, even after my 25th birthday had passed.  Today, though, I’m remembering that lesson from all those years ago as I slip on hiking boots, and wrap the soles with YakTraks for good measure.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Evelyn Berg, Dave HerholzIrene MeiSheila Sund, Andy McLemoreEvelyn BergDave Herholz,  and Hiker- Hu**© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]


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