The Rear End

THE REAR END: The Winter of My Sort of Mild Discontent

surviving one of Wisconsin’s most hostile environments

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Eva Paulus

One of the scariest things I’ve ever done was to shove my chubby little snowsuit-clad grade school body through a hastily dug tunnel in a snowbank while my friends laid on top and yelled at me. 

My friends weren’t taunting me. They were just screaming the inane phrases we happened to find hilarious that week. Non-stop. For 30 minutes. I believe the cleverest thing to yell was, “Watch for falling snow!” They’d holler and toss loose snow, creating a kind of waterfall effect at the mouth of the tunnel. 

As a result, no one could hear my screams of agony.  

And by “agony” I mean to say “extreme annoyance tempered with a twinge of tween panic.” I was stuck, and I was calling for help. Or at the very least, I was calling for everyone to just shut up for a second while I try to get out. 

They eventually stopped yelling and climbed down off the snowbank to watch me shimmy out backwards, never completing my journey to the other side. I was sweaty and red-faced and very much pissed off at my friends’ complete lack of concern over the fact that I just about died right there on the playground. I was sure the tunnel was mere moments from collapsing, sealing me inside an icy tomb, nothing but a pair bright blue moon boots jutting from the snowy rubble. 

As it turns out, the tunnel was pretty solid. Minutes later, I was laying on top myself, screaming, “Watch for falling snow!” like a coked up baby walrus while my buddies dove right through.

The snowplows would push the snow away from the school and onto a large, adjacent field, forming massive piles. In other words, we kids had access to the Himalayan Mountains at every recess.


This all took place during a wintery recess hour in the mid-1980s. My old grade school had a big parking lot running right up the building. The snowplows would push the snow away from the school and onto a large, adjacent field, forming massive piles. In other words, we kids had access to the Himalayan Mountains at every recess. ‘Twas a lofty winter wonderland allowing wee-yet-hearty mountaineers access to amazing views of the surrounding territories. 

During the snowless months, we used to walk right across that big field on our way to and from school. But in the wintertime, you had a decision to make. Should you take the long way, down the boring ol’ sidewalk, around the big field? Or would you risk traveling the more direct route, straight across the frosty tundra? Sure, traversing the field offered a shorter distance, but the snow was often up to you knees, turning your “walk” into a desperate, sweaty trudge

Some of the more naive kids (the ones who’d seen too few winters and too many stroller rides to the park) took the field route, assuming the crusty snow could support their weight. Sure, they might break through once or twice, but it was still the faster path, right?

Wrong. What these hapless young students failed to realize was that once you broke though the snow’s crystal outer shell, all was lost. One foot goes through, and bam, you’re in up to your knee. As you try to step out of the hole, shifting all of your weight to your other foot, it also pierces the shell. Now you’ve got two feet in. And no hope for rescue. 

So you must begin the slow slog to the other side. By the time you cross the field, your belly is grumbly because your body sucked every ounce of delicious energy from that morning’s Pop-Tart. Your legs burn from exertion. You see kids already lining up at the doors to file in. And guess what? The Himalayan snowbanks I so artfully described earlier now tower before you, offering you the hardest, most soul-destroying part of the journey for last. As the winter winds howl around you, a lonely tear rolls down your cheek. It freezes. 

People, as dumb as I was to climb into that tunnel that one day, I only traversed the field one, maybe two times before opting for the boring ol’ sidewalk. After all, this is the mighty Wisconsin Winter we’re talking about. And to survive, you gotta be smart.

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