There was this island in the middle of the lake where we grew up. It was a mile from shore in any direction and a little over a mile from our house. We called it Turtle Island, even though on the map it said Big Island. By “we” of course I mean “I”. It certainly was big, but it also looked just like a giant sea turtle sitting on the surface tension of the water. The shell was made out of a big hill, which we called a mountain. You could climb the mountain, which was also a forest, and find mysteriously big pits on the sides that we decided were dug out by glaciers during the monolithic age. Nobody lived on Turtle Island and there was only one camp site, on the end farthest away from our house. In the winter, when the ice grew to eighteen inches thick, my little brother, Tom, and I could walk out to it, although we only did that once. It was the time we decided to use Turtle Island for a sledding hill.
You must login to vote
We thought we would do killer jumps out of the pits, so I got out my trusty green plastic toboggan and Tom grabbed the lame, slow, flat inner tube left over from floating around on it in the summertime. We crossed the snowmobile highway, which was a hundred foot wide path where the snowmobile riders kept packing the snow down. It tended to follow the edge of the lake, roughly a couple hundred feet out. We crossed right over it because we wanted to break powder all the way. Tom jumped on my green lazar beam. “Let’s go boy!”
Instead of going, the rope broke and the sled sank down into the snow and I splashed snow at him. I got behind a pushed for a while on his shoulders. I was disappointed that it didn’t plane out on top of the snow like the motor boat did when it went real fast. Of course, I wasn’t able to push very fast at all. Snow kept piling up in his lap, adding to the weight factor. I wished that he would bail out some of that snow, even though it was only powder. I could feel it getting heavier, like crazy.
Luckily some loner snowmobile rider had forged a path for us right out there in the middle. We couldn’t see it until we were right on top of it. Of course, we weren’t looking for it either. It was like walking down train tracks, except the ties were much smaller, like the middle part of corrugated cardboard. I skimmed my boots along, zipping through the little ridges left by the big rubber tank tread on the back of the snowmobile. Tom sat down in my green lazar and put his inner tube in his lap and I pushed him a good hundred feet before I made him walk the rest of the way.
Out there in the middle, it doesn’t feel like you’re moving if you try to watch the shore. You have to focus on what’s right next to you.
We walked along the edge of the island for about a quarter of a mile until we found a spot in the forest where the trees were thinned out enough. We climbed up a little way and I took the first run on his inner tube to start digging a groove. After a few passes I let him take a turn and he drifted like a lazy water skier from one side of the groove to the other as he bumped past the trees. At the bottom he rolled off and trotted to the edge of the ice where ice was shoving its way up the shore. “I’ll start building this up,” he said, “and it’ll make a really good ramp!”
“Just don’t take any snow from the path.”
“I wasn’t going to,” he said as he scooped with both of his red gloved hands. I made my way to the top of the path, carefully walking beside the path and not in it. I followed the same deep footprints that we had been using all along, which were turning into a pretty good set of stairs. When I got to the top, I could only see Tom between the trees when he moved. Then I decided to break new snow again, to extend the path closer to the summit of the mountain.
“This is to qualify for the winter Olympics!” I said, backing up one last step. Instead of merely sitting down on the sled, like I normally did, I ran as fast at I could, jumped into the air, holding the green lazar below my chest as if it were a wing, or a surfboard. I bounced – I actually bounced – once and before I hit the ground a second time, I collided chest-on with a tree, which knocked the wind out of me, causing me to let out a very strange sounding yelp, which sounded like the kind of yelp a dog makes. I felt embarrassed. It knocked the sled clear away from me.
“What the heck was that?” said Tom.
I was still sliding down the hill and I did not know where the sled had gotten to. My chest was killing where the tree hit, but there was also a growing pain in my gut, and my instinct told me to make it the rest of the way down that hill no matter what. I got to my knees and then Tom pulled my elbow so I could stand up, and he helped me the rest of the way down. “It’ll be okay,” he said.
“Where’s the sled?” I said, but he didn’t answer. We walked right down the middle of the path and he sat me right down on the jump he had been making. Then I rolled over on my side and he put the sled next to me.
“Better get in,” he said, and I shuffled over again. I couldn’t keep my legs from tucking up, so I knew that as he pulled, they would keep dragging in the snow. He tied the broken ends of the string together, and doubled it around his hand. The sled moved about a foot, and then he fell forward on his knees. I could see his inner tube on the shore next to a bush. There was a circle patch with an orange zigzag edge around it, facing me, puffing out a little like a bruise from the air pressure. He was leaving it there.
“Are you all right?” he said, pulling the old white rope away like a rip-cord.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m fine. I don’t feel good.”
He unlaced his boots and tied them together and threaded them through the holes in the front of the sled. His boots flapped around and I knew they would soon fill with snow and his feet would be packed like frozen fish at the super market. With the boot laces he pulled me about a hundred feet before they broke. “I don’t think I can make it all the way,” he said, “like this.” He was breathing hard and already leaning on his knees. I looked back to see how far from the island we had come, and it didn’t look like we had moved and it hurt to move my head that much.
“Uh huh,” I said. My stomach hurt more and more as it filled with blood.
He took off his gloves and started tying the boot strings together again. “What I’ll do is... I’ll run home and get Dad.” But when he had the strings re-tied, gave it another good pull, without putting his gloves back on, pulling the sled right over them. “Oh crap!” he said, and scrambled back for his gloves. “I’ll have to run home.” He leaned forward and pushed against my butt and we moved a little more. It hurt my stomach like crazy, but I wasn’t going to say anything.
“Why don’t you just start running.” I said, my voice barely a whisper.
“Okay then, what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna’ run home and tell Dad. I’ll tell Dad.” He took his gloves off again and unzipped his coat and spread it over me. “Well, I’m gonna go,” he said, and he started running through the foot-deep snow.
I watched him grow smaller for a while and then looked back at the island. The sky was amazingly blue that day and I could hear his footsteps for a long time as I watched contrails grow. When I couldn’t hear him any more, I could hear cars four miles away and the unbearably loud and unnatural sound of the lake forming cracks that spanned the entire lake and echoed three times. But I couldn’t hear anything near me, which made it feel like I was in my bedroom and I became tired.
I searched the shore where our house was until I spotted Tom, a tiny speck now, bumping along up and down, but not really moving. I figured he was almost home when a snowmobile towing a trailer zipped out from shore and then I could tell he wasn’t even close to halfway. The snowmobile slowed and stopped next to him, and then it turned in a long loop, for me. He came and circled around and parked so the trailer was right in front of me.
“I was watching you guys. I could tell something was wrong. I could just tell it. What, he have a seizure?”
“Hit a tree.”
By now, the blood had stopped filling my stomach, but as soon as they put me on that sled, and we started bumping along on the bumpy snow, it started to fill my stomach again. His trailer had a plywood wall that wobbled back and forth and jumped a little as we sped over bumps, which I assumed were from us crossing old, solid, snowmobile tracks.
He rode right up on the lawn, which must have gotten Dad’s attention. When they stood me out of the trailer, he was already standing outside the sliding-glass door, with his robe hanging wide open. He had a mug of hot chocolate piping away in his hand and he closed his robe.
The snowmobile driver said, “I guess he hit a tree on the big island.”
“Probably broken rib,” he said. “You’ll be fine, champ.”
I could barely walk and I made my way so slowly that our dog, Faith, came to the open door and sniffed the air.
“Best thing is to rest. See if you can lie down and Mom’ll get you some hot chocolate. Maybe we’ll watch a movie, huh?”
I didn’t say anything but made my way to my bedroom where I went right to sleep still wearing my snowy jacket and snow pants and boots. I woke up the next day and threw up on the floor next to my bed. Mom came in and when she opened the door, I could see the island through the kitchen window and I could not longer see it as a turtle. It was just a big island.