Yesterday, with sidewalks made slippery by freezing rain overnight, my daughter made her early morning departure to walk to the high school. My first thought, hearing the door close behind her, was that I should have offered to give her a ride.
Usually a second thought is more cautious than the first, but my second thought was comforting. Walking on ice is a skill best learned when young, when reflexes are quick and bones resilient. With practice, one learns how to minimize the risk, how to test the traction as one goes, and the eye learns to identify the ice's subtle differences in texture and shade that determine where best to put the next foot. "Testing the ice", having to do with how kids can safely learn about risk, is a concept Richard Louv speaks of in his book "Last Child in the Woods".
My own walk on morning ice involved crossing the backyard to feed the duckens (we're down to one duck and one chicken). Each step on ice-coated snow required a calculation so quick it merged with instinct. Partway across the yard, my muscles remembered this particular style of walking that must have been learned during long winter treks to school as a kid, a style that combines small quick steps with forward momentum, so that weight doesn't linger on any one foot. It speeded me safely across the treacherous frozen snow, water and food in hand.
Later in the day, we got an email from the Princeton Public Schools superintendent, apologizing for not calling for a delayed school opening, given the icy conditions. He had a good excuse. The ice didn't form until 7am--too late to delay the opening--and a predicted late-morning freeze had made it sound like a delayed opening might be more dangerous than beginning at the regular hour.
All students reportedly made it safely to school, and I'll bet that a lot of learning happened even before school began, as those who walked gained valuable experience with walking on ice--experience that will remain in their muscle memory and serve them well in years to come.