Yesterday on my way into the center of Tartu, I met a younger relative of my wife's named Ken who was walking up Jakobi street towards his school.
Ken is about 12 years old and he keeps changing every time I see him, getting older, wiser, et cetera. He and I stopped to chat, and he informed me that he was on his way to a school field trip, a school field trip to Otepää, the 'winter capital' of Estonia, where he and his classmates would be forced by their instructors to ski and enjoy themselves.
Can you imagine? Skiing as part of the curriculum? Another cousin, a few years younger than Ken, also must fulfill physical education requirements by going skiing right here in Tartu. It's almost a chore. Something she has to do, no matter how badly she wants to stay at home watching Pokemon, or whatever kids are into these days. Estonian kids must ski, even if there's no snow.
Every winter I have spent here, save this one, has been polar. It's been freezing and the ground has been continuously covered with thick dark ice and fresh snow well into March. But this winter has given credence to rising global anxiety about 'climate change'. It has snowed several times -- most of November saw Tartu blanketed with a rich layer of white stuff -- but January has been more like an darker and very moist incarnation of October.
But that doesn't mean that the Estonian kids get a free pass. Instead they just keep the snow machines at Otepää working at night to ensure that every bus load of Estonian boy and girls has the opportunity to enjoy their homeland's bounty of winter sporting activities.
Epp -- my wife -- says that being forced to ski has killed her desire to go skiing again in the future. Every morning during the winter season the children of Karksi-Nuia, the community in southern Estonia where she grew up, would have to board the bus with their skis, school bags and other accessories just so that Estonia could be the land that skis.
And to think, I was going to buy Marta -- our eldest daughter -- a pair of cross country skis to take advantage of our proximity to Otepää. But with unseasonal weather like this, snow machines or no snow machines, I am starting to think it's better to rent than to buy.
This post has been corrected to reflect my wife's experience with skiing in school.