On a bright, cloudless day our family is preparing for a ride out onto the land. It is bitterly cold outside and the temperature has dropped to 30 below zero. Dad and our older brothers warm up our family’s two Bombardier Elan snow machines. They also haul two wooden toboggans out and hitch them to the snowmobiles. The homemade sleds are 10 feet in length and they are topped with a box that has three-foot high sides. These are serious toboggans that are capable of carrying a lot of cargo.
It is an exciting day for everyone. It is Sunday and after attending mass and meeting all our relations and friends at church, our family of nine children had brunch. We ate a great meal of roasted goose and vegetables in preparation for our journey out on to the land.
Our parents decide on just an hour of riding near the community, so we don’t bring any food or hot drinks with us. Everyone is bundled warm in layers of clothes. We all have on large heavy winter boots, snow pants, parkas and homemade fur lined hats. In addition to the hats, mom has also made us moose hide gloves and mitts.
Dad is driving the lead Elan and Mom is following him on another and both have sleds in tow. Most of my brothers and sisters are in the sleds. I rise up on my knees inside the wooden lined toboggan and look over its plywood side to view the community passing by. At the front, the snow is whipped up by the snowmobile track and this makes it difficult to look ahead. My brothers and I stick to the rear and hang on as the sled rises and bumps along the rough terrain. We slide from side to side as the machine and toboggan rounds a comer.
It is a great day for a ride. Even though it is mid afternoon the sun is hanging low on the horizon. Dad leads us to the river and we drive down the high bank and onto the ice in front of the community. We come across several other snow machines and we wave to familiar faces which are partly hidden by fur lined hoods, tuques and scarves.
As we follow a small channel of the river leading up the rapids near the community, my brothers and I try to keep up our activity to stay warm. We realize that when we sit still to watch the passing scenery we quickly become cold under our layers of clothes. We stand on our feet and follow the movements of the sled as it twists and turns around large lifted pieces of ice or boulders that line the shore.
There is a ledge behind our toboggan where one can stand when the toboggan is full of supplies. It is a design feature that also allows a person to quickly push the sled and keep it from getting stuck in difficult terrain. It is a throwback from the dog sled days. My brothers and I all know that we are not allowed on this ledge while we are riding on an empty sled. However, we decide on making our trip a little more exciting as we take turns carefully climbing onto the ledge. We do this carefully so as to not be seen by our parents who are preoccupied with steering the Elans. The possibility of falling off the moving sled makes the trip more exciting and exhilarating as we speed along the rough snowmobile trails.
As I hang on to the back of the sled, we slowly climb up a smaller river bank and onto a narrow snowmobile trail in dense bush. It is a seldom-used trail and as we speed through the dense brush, long thin branches reach out and sting us. I duck now and then to avoid the charging branches. This becomes a game for all of us as we careen along the trail.
We exit the bush and ride out onto a lake. This is the perfect place for a rest and a good time to chat about the ride thus far. It is early evening now and the temperature has dropped even further. The entire family seems frozen in time as we sit quietly staring out across the clean, white lake surrounded by evergreens and under a dark blue sky. It is so quiet and an undisturbed layer of snow covers the entire lake. Long shadows from the surrounding forest stretch out on the flat white surface. We stand stiffly in our layers of clothing, breathing out frosty air in the orange light of a setting sun. We are at peace on our Sunday drive.