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Commentary: When life gives you ice, lace up your skates

Commentary: When life gives you ice, lace up your skates

January 8th, 2018 by Philip Joens in Opinion

During my last stop as a reporter at a small publication in Santa Barbara, California, I'd often fall asleep to dreams of playing pond hockey on frozen lakes in my Iowa hometown.

On those nights in my apartment just a half-mile from the Pacific Ocean, some during hot summer nights or cool winter nights without heat, pond hockey seemed like a fleeting dream sacrified on the alter of adulthood. Now, given the balmy temperatures we've experienced over the past week, I feel right at home.

Sure, like all weather, the cold does have its share of disadvantages. After weeks of unseasonably warm temps, Old Man Winter put the country in an icy-headlock last week. Cold weather killed at least 17 people across the country and a rare bomb cyclone caused chaos across the East Coast.

Here in Jefferson City plumbers told the News Tribune they received countless calls from Mid-Missouri residents with frozen and burst pipes caused by temperatures that often hovered just above zero degrees during the day. The Salvation Army opened up its Center of Hope shelter at 927 Jefferson St. to dozens of people taking refuge from the cold, some who slept on cold-cots in the group's dining room.

Look past your numb fingers and toes though, and you'll see the cold and snow brings winter-recreation opportunities to the area that make Mid-Missouri a great place to live. Last weekend five strangers I met on Facebook joined me and two friends in a pick-up game of pond hockey at a small lake walking distance from my Columbia apartment. The simple thrill of skating outside on New Year's Day under the golden glare of the sun, creating new friends and playing one of my favorite sports outweighed the pain I felt the next morning when the cold-weather killed my car battery.

Tuesday, after heading home for the night, I walked out to the same lake, this time for a skate on a body looking like a tar-pit, illuminated only by the full Supermoon. With each stride I lost the black puck on the black ice beneath my feet, and at times couldn't even see my black skates in the void.

As I laid down on the ice in sub-zero temps, and stared at all the stars above, I realized how lucky each of us is to live here in this special part of the country.

Others no doubt repeated the timeless rituals of skating and fishing this week. To kids, like my nephew who's growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, these opportunities remain merely dreams. While in California I introduced him to hockey, with a Christmas gift I gave him last year as I left the Golden State. He now loves hockey, but will always grow up playing the game on artificial rinks.

Now, thinking back to my childhood, some of my best memories came on days spent building snow forts and playing snow football with friends from dusk to dawn.

While dreaming of buying a house or re-locating to warmer climates, remember warmer climates carry their own hazards. We all witnessed the devastation from hurricanes Harvey and Irma on TV this summer. As luck would have it, this winter my former home in Ventura, California, and countless others along the Central Coast of California were consumed by the state's largest ever forest fire. In past winters, Californians got a respite from the fires, but California authorities now say fire season may never end.

Before mother nature kicks Old Man Winter to the curb, Mid-Missouri will no-doubt be hit by an ice storm, or a snowstorm, or another Snowpocalypse that may well become lore. When those storms inevitably hit though, take the good with the bad, bundle up, throw a snowball, and lace up your skates.