St Croix River Road Ramblings

Welcome to River Road Ramblings.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Icy Memories

The ice cracked suddenly and gave way dropping me into the frigid water and into a struggle for my life. My heavy boots filled quickly pulling me down, and cold water penetrated my blue jeans and two layers of underwear. I went down so fast I didn’t even think of trying to swim. I thought—“stay straight and come up in the same place—don’t get caught under the ice.”

I had taken the snowmobile from our home farm to do chores as our second farm 2 miles away, taking the shorter woods route. It was 5 below zero and the roads had not been plowed since the overnight snow. I had checked, fed and watered the cattle and was on my way home. I was 15 years old. We had bought our first snowmobile a month earlier, a yellow and black 1968 Ski-doo .

The safety rules of snowmobiling included the primary one: don’t go exploring without a partner on another snowmobile. If you got stuck out in the woods, you might freeze before you could get back to civilization.

I followed the trail to the lake and there decided to take a detour across it, to drop in on Uncle Maurice. There was a well traveled trail across the lake. As I drove across, I saw the beaver house at the north end, and decided to explore it.

I knew the lake was full of springs and had a creek through it, so I left the snowmobile on the trail and walked towards the beaver house through thick fluffy snow. As I got within 20 feet of the shore, I fell through. I must have stepped onto an area above a spring where the ice was thin.

I sank fast—didn’t even think to try to swim, just went down. As my chest submerged, I came to a stop—my feet hitting a very soft and muck bottom. I had stopped with my head and shoulders out of water.

Immediately I tried to crawl on the ice—but couldn’t get a grip on anything and the ice broke as I tried to get up on it. I tried walking towards the shore, the muck gripping my boots, threatening to lock me in place. I managed to wallow forward, breaking the ice ahead of me going towards the beaver house—a large pile of sticks and mud a little ahead of me. As I got closer, my footing got better as I stepped onto the brush, sticks and small logs stored underwater for the beaver’s winter food. I managed to scramble up onto the beaver lodge that connected with the shore.

I ran along the frozen cattails on the shore and followed them around to the snowmobile trail and jogged out the snowmobile—my clothes stiffening with each step. I got it started it and drove home as fast as we could go. Ducking behind the windshield did little to warm me. My clothes were rigid and I was shivering uncontrollably as I reached home and rushed in. I stripped, changed clothes and warmed up by the stove. I threw my clothes in the washer and had them drying by the time Mom came back. “I slipped down in the manure in the barn and was a mess” I told her, not wanting her understand how dangerous snowmobiling could be and add to her worries with four active sons.

I told the Dad whole the story. He commented: “Some people have to learn by experience. “
Writing your memoirs lets you have the life you should have had.