Ice is a cagey character — sometimes friend, sometimes foe. The clink of ice cubes in a glass is a welcome sound when you want a refreshing drink. There’s a reason grocery stores post “Need ice?” signs on the checkout counter and exit doors. It’s easy to forget the essential bag until the big blue ICE sign reminds you on the way out. A cooler without ice is no cooler at all.
I never missed a chance to go with my father to the Northern Pacific Icehouse that sat alongside the tracks. The building had a chill and smell that remains in my memory to this day. It housed chunks of harvested ice used for ice reefers and caboose iceboxes. My dad picked up a big block with ice tongs and transported it to his mobile conductor’s office, the 1009 caboose. It was an indispensable commodity to preserve perishables for him and his brakeman.
Ice turns into a foe when the temperature drops below freezing, and it forms on walking and driving surfaces. It is not uncommon here in the Methow Valley to hear about another person who slipped and fell on the ice or took a spill on skis or a bicycle due to the pesky surface. Injuries from these falls range from minor bruises to serious bone fractures, spinal cord damage, and concussions. Drivers must always be aware of the possibility of black ice when driving. Wrecks caused by ice can be deadly, as happened recently outside of Leavenworth.
Danielle Micheletti, a physician assistant at Winthrop’s clinic, sees many of these traumatic injuries from falls, but notes that many soft tissue injuries are also suffered with the wrenching and twisting motion that occurs when a person is trying to prevent a full on tumble. Each year the Confluence Health Methow Valley Clinic sets out its sandwich board reminding everyone who visits the clinic to “Walk Like a Penguin.”
The “Farmer’s Almanac” says that people who live in colder climates are more acclimated to walking on icy surfaces “because they have learned to walk like a penguin.” What part of the penguin walk are we trying to imitate?
It’s the slight bend forward with a flat-footed walk that keeps your center of gravity over your feet as much as possible. Feet should be pointed out just a bit. Then it’s a matter of shuffling a little, watching every step, concentrating on balance, and keeping arms at your sides and hands out of pockets. Finally, the essential — slow down! Being in a hurry will be a contributing factor to an icy fall. In addition, boots with a large tread and, when possible, ice cleats provide significant gripping power on ice.
I am not sure how this works because the falls I’ve taken (not on ice) happened so fast, I don’t know how I could have heeded the admonition to “learn how to fall safely.” The most important advice is to protect your head. Many informational resources give these tips on how to do this: tuck your chin against your chest, cradle your arms around your head, attempt to fold your body into itself, and turn as you fall to land on your side.
The natural response to an inevitable fall is reaching with outstretched arms to break the fall. Unfortunately, that action can cause fractures and sprains of wrists and arms. Staying loose rather than tensing up will allow your body to better absorb the force of the fall. Breathing out as you fall will help keep your body relaxed. Rolling out the impact of the landing also helps dissipate the force of the fall. (Watch football players!)
Remembering all these things in the split second of the fall might take some practice. Better yet, walk like a penguin and stay upright!
Update: Faith restored. Louise Stevens’ missing accoutrements were returned to the site of the misshapen leftovers of the snowman she and her friend built.