Years ago, in college, some friends of mine rented a movie called “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.” I wasn’t even around for this viewing—although the title has stuck with me for all these years—and honestly, The Death Bed (The Bed That Eats) is neither here nor there in terms of this post, except that I would like to draw a mostly-unrelated parallel to a fearsome blight sneaking up (and under) Reykjavíkurs all over our lovely city. Beware, all ye who walk here: Death Ice: The Ice That Sprains. Death Ice: The Ice That Bruises.
The Ice That Maliciously Wants You to Fall, Embarrass Yourself In Front of Strangers,
and—If Fortune Smiles—Break An Ankle, A Wrist, A Tailbone…Or All Of The Above.
Perhaps Death Ice preys on the populace of your own wintery cities, but I have never encountered it anywhere but here. Death Ice, so far as I can determine, requires a unique combination of three environmental factors to flourish like particularly demonic, frozen kudzu:
- A temperate, but fluxing winter environment. Death Ice grows in layers, you see. First comes the snow. It is lovely. Then it gets warmer and the snow begins to melt, but slowly. Then it gets cold again and the meltwater refreezes, often in wave-like patterns, or in the form of overlapping shoe prints. Then maybe it snows again, gets warm again, gets cold again. The process continues, and the Death Ice thickens, stretches, blossoms, and invades.
- A social disinclination towards salting (or sanding) sidewalks. I believe the reason that I did not encounter Death Ice in New York, for instance, is that sidewalk salting is a religious and regular activity. Perhaps this is due to the litigious nature of clumsy Americans, but nevertheless, it means that sidewalk snow and ice melts—and melts fully—on a regular basis. Barring salt, a decent sanding might at least give us all a bit more traction.
- A lack of regular pedestrian traffic. Lots of people walking over the same sidewalks aids in faster snow-meltage. Combine an abundance of foot traffic with sidewalk-salting, and Death Ice has no opportunity to take hold. But while there are some heavily foot-trafficked (and simultaneously salted/sanded/or graveled) areas in Reykjavík, such as downtown or around the university campus, these areas do not extend to many neighborhood sidewalks, for instance, especially as you move further from the center of town.
When you get these three factors together, you have trouble. Death Ice—as it manifests in Reykjavík, at least—can often not be avoided without taking a major detour, or at the very least, giving up on sidewalks all together and deciding to walk straight down the center of the street, which has its own obvious risks, as ours is a speed-happy, pedestrian-light city. So when forced to tackle Death Ice head on, you must curl your toes, tense your calves, and baby-step/dainty-lady-walk very delicately across its pitiless face, careful not to gesture or lean or otherwise let down your guard for the briefest moment. (Woe, woe to you if you have to walk up a hill, or even a slight incline.)
I don’t think it is possible to survive a winter in Reykjavík without taking at least one spectacular spill—one “total digger,” as a roommate of mine used to say. But for every major fall avoided, there are seven near-falls, scary slips, and shaming slides. (For me, these are all accompanied by sound effects: “whoop! weep! eek! damn it! [Word that would disappoint my mom!]” I’ve become something of a noisy walker.)
Thus far, I’ve only had one really fantabulous flop, during which I (loudly) managed to bruise both shoulders, strain my back, and bump an elbow and a knee, but all (miraculously) without breaking, spraining, pulling, or otherwise cause terribly lasting damage to my person. But the winter is far from over. And the Death Ice has far from receded…
Beware, fellow walkers! Beware!