We welcome a slippery slope

One of the best sledding hills around lies at the very heart of our farm. Rising steeply from an intermittent stream to the edge of the high and spacious back pasture, it is too precipitous for tractors and is liberally crossed with cow paths, contouring back and forth. Even with four feet, it can be difficult to walk a line straight down. Freshly covered with clean snow, it is negotiable only by sliding, one way or another. The cows avoid it at such times; we take to it with our slick wooden toboggan.

We keep the toboggan under a small shed near the log sugaring cabin at the hilltop, ready for the first run of winter. Here in southern Indiana, this might come as early as October, or as late as February - but snow eventually arrives. Then we pull the toboggan out of its warm-weather hibernation, drag it to the brow of the big hill, and - with one or more aboard - down we fly on spreading wings of white.

When my son, Tim, was very young, he found the view from the hilltop to the iced-over stream daunting. He would stoutly refuse to board the toboggan, instead standing (as he later told me) in fear of being orphaned as I rocketed down and, often enough, vanished over the lip of the stream bank. I always reappeared, rather white and woolly looking, but intact. So did the toboggan, being a sturdy piece of work. Before long, Tim became a fearless hill-rider, too.

But the toboggan is more than a plaything. After its inauguration on the hill, we use it for all manner of light hauling - of logs to the woodpile, hay bales to the heifers' paddock, tools to wherever repairs are needed, or chain saw and gas to storm-pruned tree limbs. For serious work, we hitch our Belgians to a much larger sled with plank sides and curved cedar runners. But for general choring about the house and barn, the toboggan is a handy and versatile aid as long as a snow lingers.

Back when Tim refused to take on the monster hill, he'd readily leap aboard the toboggan on its working rounds, perching on whatever we were pulling for the ride. On downslope paths, he got away with this, but on the level, and certainly uphill, I'd order him off to walk under his own steam. He delighted in hopping on again as soon as my back was turned and bent to its task. It became a kind of game, when I was in the mood to play along.

Tim, now a teenager, could more readily pull me around than vice versa. But I was reminded of his toboggan-hitching days this week as I pulled another young male over the snow. It was the day my cow Moonlight was due to calve, and she was spot on time. In fact, the birthing was in progress at high noon when I checked on the cows in the front pasture. Moonlight would not be coaxed into the barn for the delivery. She simply lay down in the snow and pushed a little bull out onto the cold lap of winter.

The feeding racks were nearby, and I soon had the shivering calf nestled on a rough bed of hay under his mother's drying tongue. Despite these comforts and a strong sun, he shook mightily. It was, after all, just 18 degrees out - quite a different environment than the one he'd just exited. He was big for a newborn, slippery, and not yet up to walking. So the old wooden toboggan was pressed into service as a crib-litter.

Charlie and I took turns pulling and holding the calf on board. It was all working well until Moonlight, following anxiously, realized she could stop our progress by putting one cloven hoof on the back of the toboggan. We would push her off, only to be jerked to a halt again by her sudden and ample weight. I suspect she began to enjoy this sport, much as years ago Tim liked to hop aboard when my back was turned. But when we finally reached the barn she was suddenly all business, following her calf inside with an udderful of revival.

Our toboggan is no worse for such wear. It is, as I've mentioned, a sturdy piece of work. This is fortunate, given the unpredictable range of services we demand of it around our place - not to mention its mad flights now and then from the top of the farm to the bottom, when it serves no purpose whatsoever - except to be, in its full, unfettered glory, a toboggan.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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