Some years ago my buddy Dudley and I were waiting for a flight at the Montreal Airport, near the gates reserved for regional turboprops headed north. There were quite a few Inuit in the terminal, and I noticed that when they walked, they kind of shuffled across the smooth terrazzo floor.
I asked Dudley, “Is that a cultural thing, that shuffle, or genetic, or what?
Dudley’d spent three years doctoring in Kotzebue, Alaska, among the Inuit. “If you spent most of your life walking on ice and hard snow in mukluks with soles as slick as slippers,” he said, “you’d shuffle, too.”
I go downtown in Montpelier quite often, to the bank or post office or coffee shop, and sure enough, most of the people around me this time of year are shuffling along just like the Inuit. Ok, I am too.
Winter in northern New England goes out with a grumble, and leaves as much trouble in its wake as it can manage. What with freezing rain, sleet, and snow chasing each other across the sky, and sidewalks freezing and thawing, anybody beyond middle years is in imminent danger of tumbling – usually backward. And folks beyond middle years can least afford tumbling, in any direction. Just getting from my back door to the garage can be a death-defying act.
Some of the funniest clips on YouTube are of people trying to walk on slippery sidewalks. You watch, and you can see it coming. Then, when the inevitable happens, you know it must have hurt, but you can’t restrain a laugh. And it’s hard not to feel a touch of Schadenfreude if the unfortunate person is texting as he or she hits the icy patch. One poor guy, walking downhill, is carrying a banjo, which, after he falls, keeps on going downhill, faster and faster, as he watches helplessly from his sitting position. That really hurt!
The only Montpelier denizens I’ve seen paying no attention to slippery footing have been the mallard ducks who hang out all winter on the North Branch of the Winooski River just upstream of State Street. The other day, as a freezing rain coated everything downtown with ice, and people inched carefully along the still-unsalted sidewalks, some of them in creepers, the whole flock waddled happily downstream on the snow-covered ice, led by a big, beautiful drake, toward the shelter of the Rialto Bridge. They looked up at me carelessly, with an eat-your-heart-out look.
This is Willem Lange in Montpelier, and I gotta shuffle back to work.