Previously published at the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.
As we drove higher and farther, we began to see a dusting of white sprinkled across the landscape. In the distance, a grey mountain with gray trees grew. Higher and farther, the dusting grew into a blanket, the blanket grew into a comforter until we found ourselves in a region covered with a bipedal layer of snow. Our Central Californian kids shouted with excitement for this annual sighting.
Along the road, signs emerged, “chains required.” We continued on. The signage increased: “Icy.” Alongside a row of parked cars, in a clearing pocketed between the California pine trees, bundled children stumbled and ornamented vertically challenged snowmen.
The snow deepened. We began to wonder. Should we stop? We debated our destination. Find a town. Find a bathroom. The traffic slowed. Cars lined up. It was a snow chain checkpoint.
The signs warned us. Shoring up our understanding, we turned around and parked ahead of a station wagon. The clearing was large, separated from the road, safe with the stopped cars waiting to pass government approval to not risk their lives along the California mountainside. We would have ignored the signs. Parking, we layered our meager winter clothes and played.
When the time came, we looked for that town, those bathrooms. “Chains required,” the signs read along the meandering Train Harte Road, taking us to that wintry town.
We ignored the signs. A car slowed down ahead of us and began to move in reverse on the left side of the road. We slowed down and then as we slipped, we understood why.
The signs told us. But we ignored them. Just like everyone else.
Before that moment, I surveyed the wheels of other vehicles. “They don’t have chains on,” I thought. It must be okay.
We ignore the signs in favor of our feelings. We were excited to find the snow. I was anxious to craft a perfect “visit to the snow” day for my children who live too acclimated to this Mediterranean climate. We were amazed at the depth and beauty of the towering pine trees decorated with pillows reaching into the clear blue sky.
A man in his SUV swore at the stopped assembly.
Within thirty minutes of making our mark on the snow bank, at least 50 other Californians joined the fray, playing and romping and staggering up the steep hill punctuated with trees and foliage, bumping along as they tried their sleds to slide.
My three-year-old hated the snow.
I am glad we followed the signs, pulled over, and played. In 2006, a team of landscape architects designed a study to examine the effects of a fence around a playground on children’s play. The study is described by the American Society of Landscape Architects at asla.org: “Teachers were to take their children to a local playground in which there was no fence during their normal recess hour. The kids were to play as normal. The same group was to be taken to a comparable playground in which there was a defined border designated by a fence. In the first scenario, the children remained huddled around their teacher, fearful of leaving out of her sight. The later scenario exhibited drastically different results, with the children feeling free to explore within the given boundaries.”
Feelings of excitement and daring-do may prompt us to ignore the signs, but ultimately, we like boundaries. They reward the mind by clearing the landscape and helping us to know where we stand, how much room we have, what it is possible to accomplish. Contrary to what we might think, rather than hinder, boundaries promote creativity.
Pushing the boundaries became art, music, theater and Hollywood’s way of declaring itself brave, bold, and new. Yet those pieces seem to pass away as Rome remains the Eternal City and the most widely recognized literary masters rarely made up their owns words. The Golden Age of Hollywood is considered the 1930s when Hollywood’s self-imposed censorship system when into effect.
It is a loss if everything is regulated, but a few boundaries, a few guidelines, a snow-chain checkpoint, can go a long way in creating the perfect day, without sliding on the ice.