Saturday, 11 December 2010

Walking on Ice

“We all live amid surfaces, and the true art is to skate well on them.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

During the last ten days or so, England has been in the grip of a severe cold snap. Temperatures have hit -18 degrees and stayed well below zero even during the day. 

We’ve had more snow than I’ve ever seen here in my lifetime. It’s almost as if someone just cast a sparkling white blanket over the entire world. All that snow and freezing weather has caused quite a few problems.

Within a couple of days, the pavements turned into thick sheets of ice, compacted and polished by thousands of marching feet. That turned the normally routine act of walking into something of a mission. I hit the ground on more than one occasion!

As I was walking I started to notice how different people deal with icy pavements. I noticed four different types of walkers.

The Tip-Toers:
Staring at the ground, the Tip-Toers take tiny steps, seemingly convinced that the next one is going to result in that fatal slip. It takes them a long time to get anywhere and I doubt if they’re enjoying the scenery on the way.

I suspect some people have always been Tip-Toers, others become Tip-Toers after their first fall.

The Lurchers:
This seemed to cover the majority of people. The Lurchers walk fairly normally until that fatal moment when they unexpectedly place one foot on an extra slippery piece of ice. As their foot slides their body tenses and they do everything possible to try and stop. They lurch from one side to another and either fall or come to a stop in some contorted position.

The Skaters:
In contrast to the Lurchers, when the Skaters start to slip, rather than trying to stop, they push on forward and just go with the direction of the slip. These guys look like they’re having the most fun. Walking, sliding and pushing they make pretty rapid progress.

The Runners:
This seemed incredible at first. While we were just trying to stay on our feet at walking pace, a few crazy people would run past as if the ice wasn’t there at all.

My friend told me that when he was out running the Tip-Toers would shout at him and tell him he was crazy. But apparently it’s easier to run on ice than you might think. The only problem comes when you want to change direction. That, my friend told me, is almost impossible!

Life's Icy Surfaces
Watching all this going on I started to think that life can be a bit like walking on ice. Some days it’s particularly icy, we can see it even before we set out. Other days an unexpected piece of ice catches us by surprise and we suddenly lose our footing. Eventually, every one of us slips up and hits the ground with a bang.

For me the Skaters have the best technique. They know they’re going to lose their footing at some point. When it happens they don’t try and lurch to a stop, they feel the slip, let it carry them and push on forward. 

Skaters still fall sometimes but it’s not a big problem, they don’t start tip-toeing. They’re out there having fun, skating along.

The Runners are also interesting. They can get places very fast. They commit everything to moving forward. Slipping and running become one. Other people think they’re crazy, running too great a risk. It can be great fun to run sometimes, exhilarating even. 

We can’t run forever though. It’s impossible to change direction and eventually we’ll run straight into something.

I’m happy to say that yesterday the temperatures started to rise and the icy pavements are disappearing. However, I think the Tip-Toers, Lurchers, Skaters and Runners will stay with me for a long time.

Image courtesy of Raymond Larose


  1. I'm sorry to hear that it's so cold in the UK. Snow is pretty when it first falls, but then it turns into a mess pretty fast and it's a pain to clean up.

    I like this analogy... there's a lot to learn from the skaters and runners because not only do they have to gather the courage to fly on the icy surface, they have to ignore everyone who tells them that they're crazy. It's difficult to go against "common sense".

  2. @Cora
    Definitely! Sometimes 'common sense' can be a terrible thing :).

  3. This is genial.
    I am a runner, unfortunately, because by running I run the risk of falling and I break bones and pride. :(

    Should I be tip toer? I cannot :(

    inrpiring anyway :)