Sledders, Cattle Gather Where the Illinois Prairie Slopes
Contrary to non-Illinoisan belief, our state can roll like Wisconsin in a few places. And in those locations, generations of sledders likely have gathered for hours of winter thrills.
Illinois’ biggest country hills often are in cattle pastures, designated for grazing livestock as opposed to hillside crop production. My grandparents own a resort-caliber slope where my mom, uncles and their friends slid away winter, as did the family that lived there before them. Younger generations have continued the tradition.
The lengthy slope on Grandpa’s hill prompted sledders to hitch a pickup truck or snowmobile ride to return to the top in order to maintain their sledding energy. The most inexperienced among us made a single attempt to hike it, only to surrender to automation halfway or take a break at the top.
Meanwhile, the sleds slid, bounced and raced down the snow-covered pasture grass. Dad or an uncle would press your back as he gave you a running start down the main track.
Frozen cow pies delivered a notable thump to riders of the thin-bottomed sleds. My cousins and I laughed at each strike, even though we anticipated the brief bounce at three spots down the primary path. By the end of those childhood winter days, these pasture pies had joined the gallery of cherished memories from that hillside.
At the top of the hill, the oldest cousins would determine the best combination of relatives to travel together for either rider excitement or spectator humor. We would take turns trying the speedier tractor tire tubes. And the most competitive would keep track of who coasted the farthest without paddling using snow-packed gloves.
All the while, a few adults chose to watch the event, a symbol of how life turns simple in winter. Better yet, they knew that Grandma, who stockpiles for natural or man-made disasters, always was prepared with refreshments after those impromptu sledding parties.
After a couple of hours, we piled in pickup trucks and chuckled over the most memorable wipeouts of the day. We returned to Grandma’s house with flushed cheeks and stocking-hat heads to be welcomed by both homemade and powder-mix hot chocolate, whichever appealed to your taste, paired with store-bought powdered donuts or the glazed ones that resembled tractor tires.