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Slip sliding away – Ice as metaphor


You might feel underwhelmed with adulthood, as it just seems like one damn thing after another. But the world can still surprise you. You just have to change your expectation.

This hit me when I was climbing the Flatirons trail the other day, just above Chautauqua Park in Boulder. I was admiring how the Flatirons’ stark, angular tan slabs were snow-dusted with white like a beautiful funnel cake, how the rocks’ tilt showed that the Earth itself heaves and collapses like the rise and fall of petty civilizations, when it hit me — the deck.

Or, I hit it. The Flatiron trail these days is a skating rink.

This falling felt wrong. Certainly painful. But it also surprised me — pleasantly. I paused, and sat on the trail and watched other hikers slip. Unprepared tourists in sweats and Crocs — thunk! Poor overweight women using canes — droops! Dogs with legs splattered everywhere — haroomph!  I laughed and laughed.

You can’t beat ice, even if you try. No one can. Magnesium chloride — which CDOT scatters on the roads — might dent the ice a little, but it also rots cars’ finishes. Gravel gives you purchase, but then clogs the sewers and becomes dust — and then you just slip on the gravel anyway.

All you can do is go with it. Skiing is the ultimate example of going with the flow. Skiing creates $3 billion in annual economic impact statewide, according to the industry group Ski Country USA. This helps make Colorado tourism a $14 billion industry — perhaps the third biggest industry in the state, trailing only pot shops near the border that sell edibles to Kansas grandmothers, and the emergency room technicians who later treat those grandmothers. Slip and falls certainly impact the economy. The damages awarded in personal injury lawsuits clearly pay for an awful lot of television ads for personal injury law firms. These lawyers help you determine how much your case is worth (answer: millions and millions). They also wear a lot of hair cream, which looks slippery.

Just like a personal injury lawyer, I am a fan of slips and falls. A car stuck down in a ditch, faced against traffic, looking like it lost its way, brings me immense joy. Especially so if the car is an SUV or a Jeep or one of those other monstrosities that the TV is always selling as being invulnerable to nature, but really aren’t any better in snow than a front-wheel drive Hyundai. I like to slow down and point and laugh like Nelson — “Ha ha!” — and try not to slide off the road myself while doing so. I even like it when my beloved girlfriend, in her high-heeled boots, slips on the walk and does that hula-girl hip gyration to re-balance. I don’t want her to really fall and get hurt, I just like her to remember that she’s fallible, hopefully the next time she tells me I put too much salt in the pasta water.

I like slipping because it’s a small disaster. We live in a time when, more than any other time in human history, things just don’t go wrong. With my smartphone, I never get lost, I’m never without music, and I never struggle to find a Chinese restaurant that’s open. I feel like the roads are better plowed, the grocery stores open longer, and the porn more accessible than ever. As long as you can avoid dying in a mass shooting, America has never had fewer problems.

The Greek philosopher Epictetus says that the key to life is understanding what is in our power and what is out of our power — which is a fact I learned in the humanities department at CU, and therefore a fact we should pay attention to, since it cost my parents thousands of dollars for me to learn. Ice and snow are clearly out of our power. And slipping on them is a metaphor for all the ways that life can and will surprise you. That little fat glob in your artery could slip up to your brain and stroke you; your dog might eat your razor blades and die; ISIS might recruit your grandmother to slip TNT into her souffle.

The meaning of life is that it ends. Gravity will beat us all, eventually. With the ice and snow of winter, it gets in an early punch. And it’s possible we should be grateful for the reminder that bad things are good things, too. If it wasn’t for that last-second slip into the grave, life would bore the crap out of you. So try spending an hour at Chautauqua, watching morons fall — and laughing. And then do what I did — glissade down, and remember that you’re gonna fall, too, and that when you do, you have a smartphone nearby, which can always find the location of the nearest E.R.

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