The toboggan’s scarred and battered prow, with its narrow strips of varnished wood, scratched, warped and dinged, attests to its long history of snowy campaigns.
Trees and rocks eternal foes.
Its red, vinyl pad, cracked and beaten. Its plastic rope ties ever-untying.
It takes little prodding to initiate sledding on the golf course near our home. After a few phone calls, friends from town gather at our back door with a variety of apparatus, ranging from plastic school lunch trays to super-duper downhill racers.
Like a procession of well laden ants, we head down Shoreacres Road and into the heart of winter with spirits high. During the mile or so journey to the ravines, the boys can’t wait for the final destination before throwing themselves and their sleds at slopes of snow – even the dingy, frozen piles left by the plows.
Cheeks crimson, noses dripping, devilish smiles rising, and big boots trudging heavily, they jettison themselves, scraping briefly atop the icy, roadside heap.
Undeterred, the flatter, frozen road ahead spawns another attempt, and the unsuspecting walking there find themselves not indirectly in the path of another misguided trajectory.
Leaving victims strewn in the wake, shouting obscenities, in between fits of laughter.
Crossing thigh-high snowdrifts, pushing against the penetrating Lake Michigan winds, we know there’s reward in the shelter of the woods. In the rise and fall of the ravines just ahead.
By the time the last of the stragglers arrive, bodies are already hurtling down the small, steep hills – feet first and head first – as untouched, uncharted snow is quickly trampled smooth and slick.
So the boys and their sleds can go fast and faster toward the woods below, laughing like hyena, until the next sound is cracking plastic. Followed by moans, grunts, more laughter… and a few more well chosen profanities.
More than slightly apprehensive to sled in tandem with these boy rocketeers, I also know I’ll never gain the speed I crave when sledding solo. So I climb aboard, wrap my arms around their thick, damp, denim layers and look below, to a hand-packed jump designed to make you fly.
Pleading for caution, I know full well that caution is about to be damned.
Down we go, straight toward the jump and into the air. But the moment is fleeting before losing my hold, my pilot, a boot, and a glove. Yet gaining a face full of snow and a smile from ear to ear.
From a resting spot at the top of the hill, I watch the boys with their boundless bravado, attempt daredevil moves of surfing and spinning and bumper sleds. Determined to create one more spectacular crash before the snowy adventure can be considered a success.
By the time the sun begins its early descent, the dampness has sunk deep into our layers and it’s time to stumble home, iced-over and exhausted. The older boys taking turns pulling along the little ones with nothing left to give.
Each step energized by the thought of the warmth that will embrace us when we open the back door. Fueled by the knowledge that a crackling fire and hot chocolates wait at the other end.