Winter Neighborhood

On my evening walk, I count a dozen dogs still romping in the winter park, schnauzer-size to Great Dane. At 17 degrees above zero, the Great Dane wears an elegant royal purple coast and matching boots. Canine apparel seems more fashion-forward than their humans’ parkas. I do not approach today, but other days I’ve enjoyed enthusiastic canine greetings. 

On a farther hill, children and parents slide on bright red, orange, yellow, green sleds or saucers, cheerful, laughing, enjoying outdoors. Beyond the hills that I can see, beyond those I can count, more dogs and humans race and slide and play, on crisp snow tracked by hundreds of skis, boots, and paws. 

Today, the stream and pond, the ducks and hills and snow are free. For a few frozen months, we roam freely through this winter park, until spring returns it to the golfing overlords. 

By April the gates will close and open only for a fee—how much, I do not know and dare not even guess. I wonder what some club member would say if I stopped them, come summer time, and asked how much for membership, for greens fees, for free access to these twenty acres? I could tell them that I need the number for a poem, which would be true. 

Walking on, I nod to neighbors, say hello and, COVID-cautious, keep my distance. In the public park, a dozen teens or young adults play hockey inside the boards. Half a dozen younger children claim a hockey stick space outside the boards, while figure skaters circle and a father pushes some yellow plastic ice-carriage with child inside. 

I see more people playing outdoors today than I recall on any summer day. My neighborhood seems almost urban. 

Perhaps this is a consequence of COVID, driving us outdoors to see each other safely. Especially during that first year, more people walked and biked and stayed in open air. I began walking more because of avoiding indoor gyms. Now I love my daily miles and cannot imagine stopping. 

Or perhaps these winter sports are simply Minnesotan defiance, like snow shoveling in shorts. We are a contrary lot when it comes to weather, with a seasonal defiant disorder evidenced by boasting about blizzards, subzero skiing, and spitting in the face of Old Man Winter—even when spit freezes and shatters as it hits the ice-covered sidewalk. 

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