Day of truck sledding launches a lifelong empathy with flying squirrels.
Winter Adventure Story by Al Batt, Hartland, Minnesota
By Al Batt
We feed the birds, and because we feed the birds, we inevitably feed the squirrels. That really bugs some folks, and a friend recently sent me a video of a squirrel-proof feeder in action. A squirrel climbs up for a hearty lunch, but instead of breakfast it gets flung through the air with the greatest unease. Watching it took me back to an equally uneasy boyhood adventure.
I grew up on a farm that was part marsh, part woods and part prairie—all of it flat. Despite a lack of decent sledding hills, I owned a snow saucer. It was one of those round metal jobs that’s impossible to steer. One winter, inspired after watching the Olympic bobsledders on TV, my friends and I hatched a plan. We’d tie the saucer to the bumper of an old pickup truck and pull it down the snow-packed gravel road. It’d be exactly like the Olympics, but better.
We used a long rope to give the rider time to veer if the truck made a sudden stop. I got excited as we worked out the details. If only we could find someone dumb enough to volunteer. When I mentioned this aloud, everyone stared at me. I didn’t recall getting “chump” tattooed on my forehead, but before I knew it, I was sitting in that saucer like Forrest Gump.
The pickup started slowly, but soon the saucer was bouncing along like a crazed kangaroo. Hanging on to the saucer probably would’ve been a challenge for most folks, but I regularly rode a horse that hated me. Compared to that, this was almost fun.
When the pickup slowed for the first turn, I managed to navigate it with little bloodshed and a survivor’s smile spread across my face. Unfortunately, the truck cut the next turn a little too short. I tried staying on the road, but the saucer flew straight for a signpost.
I was frantically groping for a nonexistent steering wheel when, through sheer dumb luck, the saucer sailed wide. I breathed a deep sigh of relief just about the time the rope hit the post. If you’ve ever watched a tetherball whirling around a pole, you can imagine how I felt—except the ball doesn’t go flying into a snowbank when it hits the end of its rope.
My friends laughed as if they’d just seen the funniest thing ever. I picked myself up and limped stoically back to the truck. Coach Smith had taught us to “walk it off,” even if we were carrying a severed limb. But I clearly remember that I didn’t like being flung one little bit.
And that’s why you’ll never find a squirrel-flinging bird feeder at our house. Even though it was a long time ago, I can still imagine how the poor squirrel in that video must’ve felt. And I wonder if his buddies laughed at him, too.
Illustration by Kevin Rechin