Let the Chips Fall

the annual battle has commenced and it’s time to break some ice

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

~

Right now, I can hear it. Echoing down the chilly streets. Bouncing off the backyard fences. The chipping. The sharp, staccato hammering. It would appear as though the people of our city have made their decision.

The ice must go.

There is no snow to shovel from the walkway, no windshield to scrape. Only the ice, crusty and thick, sealing the sidewalks away from the rubbery soles of our boots. Speed-bumping the end of our driveways. Transforming our front steps into terrifying, dilapidated luge tracks. It’s been waiting for us all season long, looming beneath Mother Nature’s thick winter blanket. Never moving, patient. And now here, in the middle of March, it has revealed itself.

“I’m still here,” it whispers in the dead of night. “Let’s dance.”

The city wakes up one day to blazing sunlight. Parts of the street out front are dry as a bone, and water streams down the edges, disappearing under the crud-speckled snowbanks, stubbornly clinging to the curbs. We go outside – without a jacket – to check on the ice.

What’s this? There are lines in the ice. Fissures are forming – cracks in the armor – and something in the center of our brain clicks. Today, we think, Today we’re going to smash this ice ... to oblivion.

Confident in our strength and skill, we raise up our fearsome ice chipper thingies, and bring them roaring down. ... and then things get real.

We take to the garage and retrieve our weapon of choice – the big, long ice chipper thingy we bought on sale at Target last year. We found it right next to the rock salt, gleaming. Where our plastic snow shovels have failed, this will succeed. A few mighty jabs with our mighty ice chipper thingy will take care of that annoying ice. This is going to be fun, we think.

And we are idiots. To think the ice would yield without a fight? Insanity! Oh sure, we get a few good thwacks in, and ice chips fly gloriously through the air. In slow motion. As we cackle. It’s unbelievably satisfying to see a small bit of concrete, finally freed of its wintertime fortress! Confident in our strength and skill, we raise up our fearsome ice chipper thingies, and bring them roaring down ... and then things get real.

It’s a funny thing, ice. It’s just water that got really cold one day and then ... stopped moving. It just sits there all winter long, doing nothing at all. It’s lazy, right?

Wrong. For months beneath the dark, dark snow, the ice is drawn into itself, sucking in The Cold like a black hole. The stuff we all complain about? The freezing air? The constant, unshakable chill of the Wisconsin winter? The ice feeds upon it. Make no mistake, dear friends, the ice is doing something. It’s getting harder.

So, confident in our strength and skill, we raise up our fearsome ice chipper thingies, and bring them roaring down upon the ice assuming, nay, knowing it will simply shatter against the fabulous force of our blow. But it doesn’t. Our blades connect with the ice – a good two inches thick – only to bounce back, the tremendous energy of our strike recoiling right back up the shaft and into our hands, up our arms and into our shoulders.

And. It. Hurts.

The ice says nothing. It smiles and waits for us to try again. So we try. Over and over we try, sending blow after glancing blow into the ice, taking off small chunks here and there, but nothing of consequence. It’s infuriating! The worst, thickest, and most obnoxious ice lives at the end of the driveway, having absorbed the weight of our cars for months, getting harder and harder until it’s bulletproof. And yet we go at it, curling up the corners of the ice chipper thingy’s not-so-mighty blade until we throw it aside, drop to our knees, and hammer against the ice with our bare fists until we slump down right on top of it, weeping.

“I’m still here,” it softly whispers to our naked ears. “Having fun?”

Oh sure, the more tenacious of us will go at it all day long until, exhausted, we shovel up the chunks and bits of ice into a big pile and look upon it, victorious. But empty. We drag our feet back to the house, pull off our boots, and fall into a chair. We stare at the wall, wondering what the hell just happened? The ice is gone ... but who won?

The ice won. And next year, it will win again. The ice always wins.

Always.

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