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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 20, 2003 - Issue 96


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At the Speed of Fright

by Timm Severud

SkatersI have been known to do some really dumb things in my life, just like most of the rest of you and those that will not admit it are at that moment face to face with their own stupidity.

When I was 9 the Volunteer Fire Department had a skate swap and I picked up a pair of size 9 speed skates. Unfortunately I wore size 5 at the time. However that would not dissuade me and when Mom pointed it out, I merely said, 'Heck, I will grow into them.' I really wanted a set speed skate figuring that when the ice conditions were right they would be the perfect things for skating with a sail.

I took them down stairs to Dad's workbench and put a perfect edge on them. I did not polish then but I 'mink oiled' them which brought out a dignity that they failed to have when I bought them.

As chances would have it that winter was a perfect ice year, cold enough to form ice with no snow into mid January. At Christmas the ice was not deemed thick enough to be out on yet… however the urge to try out the skates finally won about 4 days later.

I woke up early, before 4 am, it was dead still cold, and the type of cold one can hear the birch trees exploding from the expanding ice within its bark. It was between -35 and -40. When I got down to the boat dock. I was wearing a light set of skiing clothes as I planned to work up a real sweat skating up Prairie Lake, with a Hudson Bay coat over it.

I had a pair of socks stuffed in the toe of skate and a set of straps on my ankles to keep them steady but giving me more ankle support. I took off to the west and along the south shore of the lake. About a half mile away was the corner where the channels were and where the lake proceeds north for 9 miles or so to Rice Creek at its head.

It was a general rule for us not to take either of the two smaller channels between shore and the first island or between the two islands, but to take the outer channel and the largest. The inner channel is weed clogged with an old wooden bridge to get under, which unless one is a troll is not worth the effort. The middle channel is a fun one to consider. The distance at its narrowest between the two islands is about 6 feet. The current between the islands is strong and would often be open water. It was a place we were told by our mothers 'Not to go through', which of course made it nearly irresistible.

On the way out I was a good boy and used the outer channel and skated up the lake. I got the hang of the skates by the time I was through the channel and I made good time to the upper end of the lake. There was no wind and when I was up to speed the cold was very penetrating.

On my return trip down the lake for the last 3 miles I could see the channels and the islands. I was cold and wanted to get home. I figured the middle channel would save me a couple of minutes and if I got going as fast as I could I would skim through the thin part. All of this added up to the perfect rationalization to do something really stupid.

Everything was just fine until I got to the narrowest part and there the ice was less than a half-inch thick and I cut through the ice. I could feel myself going in so I throw myself towards the inner island and its brushy bank. The ice got thicker as I went in and by the time I stopped it was over 2 inches thick and I felt like I had been cut up by it going in. I was standing on the bottom and up to my shoulders in the water. I was able to pull myself off.

Now a child doesn't grow up where I did without learning a few basic survival rules and the stories the old geezers in town had told me kicked in. Get the wet clothes off. I could see home about a half mile away and I knew I could make it with out the wet clothing on, but doubted I could with it. I stripped down to my socks putting my coat and clothing in the brush so they would not freeze to the ground. I left my socks on got my skates back on faster than I would have guessed possible.

I doubt that I have ever skated faster without a sail. I also remember that short trip as the coldest moment I have ever experienced. I also remember how frightened I was.

I made it home without any problems more than very cold hands. I took a hot shower and went back to bed. When my Mom got up she asked why I had gotten up to take a shower, I told her I had woken up in a cold sweat and was chilled. My parents did not find out what had happened and a couple of days later I retrieved my clothes.

Some people think there is nothing father than the speed of light… they apparently have never skated with the speed of fright.

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