Winter Adventure: A Lasting Memory

Day of truck sledding launches a lifelong empathy with flying squirrels.

Winter adventure

Winter Adventure Story by Al Batt, Hartland, Minnesota


By Al Batt
Hartland, Minnesota

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

Dixie Spaid January 4, 2016 at 6:35 pm

I had a similar experience as a child in Eastern Montana. My brothers talked me into asking dad to pull us on the hood of an old car upside down behind his pickup. I was daddy’s girl so they knew he would say yes. I didn’t even want to go, but they said he wouldn’t if I didn’t. So my two older brothers and I got on and dad drove slowly around the block. As we came to our corner we hit black ice and the hood went out to the side. Our neighbor’s car was parked on the rode and my older brother bailed off seeing what was coming. My other brother told me to look out and tried to get in front of me. We went under the car and hit the undercarriage of it. They pulled us out and kept asking if we were OK, and I was until I thought I might have to go to the doctor and cried that I didn’t want to. I had hit my eye and my brother had hit his nose. My folks called the doctor and they told them to keep an eye on me. My dad put raw meat on it to draw out the swelling and also raw potato halves. It worked. Never went to the doctor, but had quite a shiner. Funny thing was, my brothers and sister all had glasses when they were young and I didn’t until 17, even though that eye got hit on the edge of a dresser about a year later and then again by a baseball in another two years.

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Paul January 4, 2016 at 8:42 pm

When I was a kid, my dad used to hook out metal runner Flexible Flyer sleds behind the truck and pull us around the farm field. It was a lot of fun. We never had an accident but those fun times ended when one year the ground was soft and my dad buried the truck in the unseen mud. My mom called a relative with a big tractor to come pull the truck out of the field.

As an adult, I used to pull my nephews in a plastic toboggan behind an atv on trails packed by a snowmobile. I always told them that if the toboggan was headed for an obstacle, they were to bail out on the ground to avoid getting hurt. One time I tried to cut across the open field so, I sped up to get through the unpacked snow. I hit the snow and it was deeper than expected. The atv came to an abrupt stop and the toboggan crashed into the rear of the atv. The front of the toboggan was destroyed but, nobody was injured.

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