Laughing in the Face of Winter (2021)

Today, my kids and I hiked to a waterfall and lounged on the shores of Lake Erie. We played basketball and baseball in the park before we went to get ice cream at Mitchell’s. And then we finished by meeting some friends in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. All of this in spite of the fact that we’re still in the middle of a multi-week hard freeze, with snow and ice and temperatures in the twenties. We call it “Laughing in the Face of Winter.”

It was pretty crazy. But also pretty fun.

This was our fourth year in a row of choosing to Laugh in the Face of Winter. Previous editions have taken place over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Unfortunately, this year it wasn’t wintry enough in mid-January. So we waited. Even when the weather got colder and more cooperative, however, we had a hard time getting our schedules to align. Including Elliot was especially challenging with his college schedule and part-time job. But the circumstances finally aligned for this Valentine’s / President’s Day weekend. So even though I didn’t particularly feel like it — due to my own fatigue, some grumpiness from the kids, and the feeling that we were just shoe-horning the event into our calendars — I made some fun-in-the-sun plans. And we made it happen.

The concept is to pretend as if it’s a lovely summer day. To spite the snow and ice. To Laugh in the Face of Winter. In 2018, we hiked to Deer Lick Cave in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, strolled the beaches of Lake Erie, and got ice cream cones from Mitchell’s in Ohio City. For the 2019 edition, we hiked to Blue Hen Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and got blizzards from Dairy Queen. In 2020, we had a picnic on the top of Gildersleeve Mountain, ate ice cream from Handel’s, and played frisbee in the park.

This year, our favorite parts were probably the lakes on the front end and back end of our afternoon. We started out at Bay Village, just west of Cleveland. And seriously: I’ve never seen Lake Erie as frozen as it was today. There was no open (liquid) water anywhere within range of view. We walked on the bumpy, bulbous surface of the water, out perhaps 100 meters from the shore. Even where we would normally expect to encounter the breakers, the waves were stacked up like broken glass. It was amazing to “walk on water,” pick up shards of glass, and play war games throwing some of the smaller spherical ice formations like grenades and hiding in trenches on a beach that felt like Normandy in the Second World War.

At the end of the afternoon, we met our friends AJ and Jana at Kendall Lake in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. They reached out when they heard of our developing plans, and it ended up being super-fun to include them in our tradition. Winter sports are one of those rare things where you can interact with other people and it almost feels like COVID-19 doesn’t exist. We skated around on the smooth surface of Kendall Lake for an hour and a half. Even then, it was hard to leave. We weren’t cold. We were still having fun with our friends in the park. But we had to get back to regular life in Kent.

Even so, it felt good to ride in the car, listening to old summer playlists. Laughing in the Face of Winter feels empowering. The weather can’t stop our fun. We just need to stay creative and resilient.

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