Guest Columnist

Skating through winter in a stopover sweater

I am not a sweater person, however a few times a year it feels necessary to pull one over my mostly-bald head, so I do, and it’s a beaut. I picked it up in Iceland almost forty years ago, back when Iceland Air was the cheapest way (and most uncomfortable) airline flying from the United States to the European continent. A stopover at the airport in Reykjavik was required each way so on the way home I purchased my sweater in an airport shop. In other words I’ve never really been to Iceland, other than to the airport. (I can tell you a similar story about Amsterdam) Woven from the wool of Icelandic sheep, my sweater has never been anywhere near a mothball and is in mint condition, and is perfect for ice-skating.

I’m an OK ice-skater and for many years I kept my skates in the trunk of my car, in case an ice rink or frozen marsh presented itself. I have ice-skated outdoors in Chicago, New York City, Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna, and I am always the oldest skater on the ice, which should tell me something but of course, like many things, does not. The Christmas season was in full swing in Salzburg when I laced ‘em up and things were going beautifully counterclockwise until an eight or nine-year old girl and I got tangled up. We both went down and everything seemed to be fine until she heard me apologize to her in a language not her own. She began to cry and skated over to a woman I assumed was her mother, a woman to whom I also apologized. I don’t think our little crash was my fault but disdain for Americans in Europe need not be fueled by me.

Political maneuvering in Iowa and New Hampshire is now behind us and the never-ending run for U.S. president is moving on to warmer places. Please tell Scarlett that I don’t give a damn. Here’s the thing: every great civilization (Greece, Spain, Norway, Rome, France, Germany) eventually falls victim to its own stupidity, narcissism, and excesses. The so-called leaders don’t see it and true morality and courage is left to those who are told to eat cake and before you know it the country competes as a minor league team. It’s not a bad thing; the major leagues are not all that interesting. Welcome to America.

Long icicles hang from my back porch, my white cat is curled up on my lap, jazz is playing on the radio, my black cat is stretched out in front of the living room stove and I wonder why anyone wants to live anywhere other than here. Hunkering down on a frigid day is heaven. Winter is a marvelous time of year: American bald eagles hang out in the trees behind my house, deer families spend the night a few yards from the garage, and a squirrel leaves her adorable footprints in the snow outside one of my garage doors, clearly believing something of interest lies behind door number one.

The other night I sat with friends at dinner and a woman at the table next to ours coughed a few times in our direction, barely covering her mouth. I looked at my mates and said, “Coronavirus.” Not the best thing to say. OK, I’m an idiot. Unfortunately my mouth keeps opening, has for years. In the meantime I’m off to the basement. My beloved Icelandic sweater hangs there and clearly it’s time to wipe the dust off my skates.

Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.

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