My home sits atop a hill. Because the land slopes away, my office seems to be on a third-story level. I’m pretty high up as I look down the hill. Today is the first day of winter in which we have significant ground cover. I can hear the delightful screams and shouts of neighbourhood children as they enjoy sliding down the same hill my son once enjoyed in that way.

I love to hear the enthusiasm in their high-pitched voices. It is sometimes intermittent, sometimes quite regular. It is never bothersome in winter. In winter their shouts and screams are always to give expression to one delight or another. In other seasons I can overhear threats or plots or challenges that were never meant to be heard by adult ears. I have never heard anything so extreme that I felt that I should intervene, but I have heard insults hurled, plans and plots discussed, things of which moms and dads would not approve.

Winter is cold. Winter is always only about sliding down the hill, nothing else. It is as if winter introduces an innocence or a purity that needs to be observed by people who interact outdoors. People are still themselves. That doesn’t change. But their focus seems to be mostly on things other than social sniping or pretend warfare, etc. (Snowball fights excepted.)

What amuses me most, as someone who by now might well be regarded as a “veteran” hill watcher, are the distinct differences between girls and boys on the sliding hill. Now these observations are general in nature, there have been lots of exceptions to them, but there is also no question but that my observations are from a time-proven pattern.

Girls most often slide in groups. They’ll do things like take turns dragging a toboggan up the hillside, often chatting away happily as they do so, laughing at themselves as they slip, fall and backslide down the slippery hill. They get to the top of the hill and rest, often taking minutes to talk, perhaps plan, then they sit in a row on the toboggan and slowly edge themselves forward toward the crest of the hill. Sometimes the girls begin screaming before the toboggan has even begun its descent, just because they are approaching the crest of the hill and may have sensed a touch of slide. Once the slide has started, all the girls scream all the way to the bottom, where they fall off sideways, roll over in the snow and lie there for a moment (or longer) to recover from their thrill before starting back up in a giggling gaggle.

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Boys handle the hill differently. Boys slide alone. They are pictures of determination as they march up the hill, towing their three-ski, X-wing, speed-o-sliders, with motorcycle mounting behind them, digging their feet in sideways against the slope to prevent slipping. The boys have often built up a small hill either mid-slope or near the bottom of the hill to increase their challenge. The boy mounts his sled, quickly gathers his courage, fixes his focus and determination, then begins his perilous descent. Gathering speed, he jumps his sled over the small hill, flying briefly through the air before he lands on the other side. At the bottom, he pulls his sled sharply to one side and skids to a stop. Then and only then, as he thrusts his arms in the air in triumph, he emits a single, loud “whoop” of joy at having completed the slide upright, with everything under control.  He has, in his own way, ‘conquered’ the hill.

As I watch all of this play out each year, it reminds me of some fundamental differences between males and females (exceptions to generalities duly noted). One of David Bowie’s songs that was written during his gay period had a line I thought was apropos.
“I was stone and he was wax, so he could scream and still relax. Unbelievable.”

As a male, I feel that I understand pretending to be stone, aspiring to be stone. Hard, unmoving, virtually unbreakable, seems to be a kind of male ideal of sorts. I would never have been able to powerlift my own body weight over my head if I had strayed far from that mental ideal. It was about concentration, visualizing success, making the seemingly impossible happen. Then celebrating with a joy-whoop once the seemingly impossible had been achieved. Still, I remain well-balanced enough to appreciate my former girlfriend’s remark when I was watching a football game. She said, “I can see why they don’t score many touchdowns. Once a man scores a touchdown all his team mates beat him up!” But that’s not the way hard stone sees things. That’s the way soft wax sees things.

Now I enter the winter and the sound of innocent children’s voices becomes background music to my aging ears. The world turns as it revolves around the sun. Change happens in places and not so much in other places. Play on, children, play on!

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