One Christmas Day, when I was fourteen years old, Mrs. Bowman asked me to take her two young girls Ruthie and Joan to nearby Sherwood Park for a ride on their brand new, light-weight aluminum toboggan.
The fact that Mrs. Bowman, who lived a few doors away, would put her trust in me made me feel proud. I would protect them.
Once inside the park, we navigated our way around other kids to a familiar spot at the top of the hill. My wooden sled’s progress down the hill from there ended a good fifty yards, or more, shy of the deep ravine that ran through the park. I was sure there would be lots of room for the new sled to coast to a stop.
We three mounted the sled and pushed our way down. The sled gathered momentum and we laughed and screamed as it gathered more speed. As we reached the bottom, the sled was going much faster than I’d anticipated. The ravine’s yawning mouth came closer with each second. We were in trouble. I tried to slow the sled by dragging my hands on the snow.
A few yards shy of the ravine, I pushed Joan and Ruthie off the sled. The ravine welcomed me with a cold penetrating embrace. I landed with a sickening thud on one of the rough-cut logs embedded in the ravine’s slope. I rolled off the sled and lay on my side, stunned by the impact. Slowly, I stood up, looked around for Joan and Ruthie, and retrieved the sled that now had an enormous u-shaped dent in it.
We all trudged home. Mrs. Bowman was surprised to see us so soon. Then she saw the damaged sled. How was I going to make up for this? I stammered a tearful, miserable apology.
She looked at me sympathetically and asked me to come in, take off my parka, and drink a hot chocolate.
Mrs. Bowman was exceedingly kind, and said not to worry. The sled was just a thing, an object. It was more important that we were safe and unharmed, she said. She got me talking about the ride as I sipped the hot chocolate. She asked me how I estimated the toboggan’s speed and distance from the ravine. How did I calculate it? Not the usual questions I would have been asked, but Mrs. Bowman was a science teacher.
She turned my flight into the chasm of Sherwood Park’s ravine from one of miscalculation into a valuable lesson of friction, momentum, and the painful bump of gravity. The subject of physics took on a new meaning. A little lightbulb went on for me, and formulas were not so strange after all.
That’s why at Christmas, whether tobogganing, skiing, or going down a slope of any kind, I smile and remember Mrs. Bowman’s recitation of her first law of motion, with a wink to Albert Einstein. Enthusiasm, she stressed, for hurling oneself through space, ‘e’, leads to a monumentally bumpy outcome, ‘m’, if not tempered by an abundance of caution, which is ‘c’ squared.
Tom Pickering’s writing career includes work as a technical writer and the production of original plays for community theatre. Through the support of the Writers’ Group of Spirit of the Hills, he has developed some non-fiction work and a handful of short stories. Sherwood Park Xmas Ride is his latest work.