Winter adventure

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.

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