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Chore Boots and Town Shoes

Back in my careening youth, I spent a winter in Portland, Maine. It is a city on a hill, bisected by quaint cobblestone streets that weave their way between shops and houses, almost all of which have views of the ocean. Despite the fact that winter on the coast of Maine is the kind of damp that creeps into your bones and doesn’t leave til spring, I absolutely loved my time there. I took my dogs out walking along the bay’s rocky shore almost every day, and even now I sometimes wake longing for that gray coast and its winter splendor.

Winter in a coastal town had its disadvantages, however. The damp air and significant snowfall meant those narrow, steep avenues were treacherous to navigate and parking between the piles of snow a near impossibility. The most dangerous type of journey, though, was not one taken in an automobile, but one attempted on foot. This was because the sun shining on the waterfront provided just enough heat to melt a few centimeters from the mountainous piles of snow each day, leaving the sidewalks glistening with puddles. Once the sun had left its zenith, the puddles turned to ice slicks, smooth as silk.

The daily freezing, melting, refreezing cycle transformed nearly every surface in town to a skating rink from dusk until midday, but, as folks rarely wear ice skates to run errands, the frozen wonderland of paths was no boon.

I was a cook at a small cafe -- the sort of cozy spot that attracted a crew of regulars. As winter wore on, many of those customers began appearing to sip lattes and soups sporting crutches and casts, all with the same story: “I was walking to my car, and I fell on the ice!”

Each morning, it seemed, brought a new causality, and in one epic incident a woman helping a broken-ankled fellow customer from the cafe to a parked car fell herself, spraining a wrist.

The cafe was a mere stones throw from the studio apartment I was renting, making my daily commute no more than a few brisk steps. But, unfortunately, those steps were up and down the tallest hill in town, and the down hill portion took place early in the morning -- the slipperiest time of day. I grew to regard those short walks with mounting panic. A fall seemed less of an ‘if’ and more of a ‘when.’

When it did finally happen, I was on the ground before I even realized I’d slipped. The first clue that my worst fear was realized was my sudden view of the sky instead of the street. As I lay there, the cold ground below, the blue, blue sky above, trying to assess my pain level, I wondered if my time in Maine might be drawing to a close.

It was, but the lurching continued for a few more years. In fact, that period in my life might be best characterized by the sensation of unexpected motion, and I often wondered if I was flying or falling, knowing I’d only be sure when I hit the ground.

This week in western Dakota, we’ve been enjoying midday thaws, which means morning and evening the yard very much replicates the winter streets of Portland. Yesterday, rushing to dump scraps at the chicken coop before a meeting in town, foolishly wearing my town shoes, I found myself failing up a miniature mountain of ice, legs windmilling for traction. As I skidded down the other side, and thudded securely onto safer ground, I thought to myself, “You’ve come along way, baby,” and I meant it. I’ve learned a thing or two about safe landings since that long ago winter in Maine.

Still, it’s going to be chore boots from now till spring for this gal, because all the life lessons in the world can’t compensate for inappropriate footwear.

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