The Winters Tale: The Winter Water Hazard
by Steve Mathisen
The winters tale in the woods.
“Come on Johnny, let’s go! I want to skate on the old pond today. We’re only here in Millville visiting my grandparents for a week.” Susie said encouraging her friend Johnny to hurry into his coat, hat and mittens.
“I am hurrying, Susie” Johnny said sounding like he was already out of breath. He had already put on two extra sweaters, long johns and an extra set of wool socks and was bent over trying to reach the laces of his hi-top insulated winter boots and just barely reaching them. Between the extra layers of clothing and the layers of Johnny’s round stomach, the laces were almost out of his reach. He got them and was now finishing up the final knot on his right boot.
“There, I’ve got the boots laced up. All I need to do now is to put on my hat and scarf and coat and mittens. You can never be too careful out in winter weather. Especially here in upper Minnesota! It’s really cold up here!”
“Great, now let’s go. We want to get out there and get back before it gets dark.” Susie said in eager anticipation.
When Johnny was finally ready, they headed out the back door and walked across the wide driveway, passed the barn and followed a path that took them across the cornfields plowed under after the harvest. The sky was a dull, steely gray and the ground was covered with white frost. They could see each breath they took. They talked excitedly about how much fun it was going to be to skate on a real frozen pond instead of the ice rink they practiced on back home in Crescent City.
After walking across fields for a time, the path led into what looked like a small bunch of trees.
“I think the pond is just on the other side of these trees,” said Susie.
“Wow, it sure is farther than I thought,” said Johnny as he slowed down to look up at all the tall trees.
“Come on Johnny, keep up! It’s starting to snow.”
“I’m coming. I was just noticing how weird it is in here with all these trees covered in snow.”
“Yup, but we should be out of the woods in a couple of minutes if we walk fast.”
“Walk fast, that’s a really good idea. It’s kinda creepy in here. The snow is starting to come down real hard, the sky is getting to be a real dark gray and it’s getting hard to see.”
Johnny picked up the pace and started walking fast. He walked so fast Susie had trouble keeping up with him. The only sound was their feet rapidly crunching in the new fallen snow.
After several minutes of walking, taking different turns to follow what Susie thought was the path, she said with a shiver in her voice, “Johnny, does it seem like it’s getting darker instead of lighter?”
“Y-y-yes. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice and get scared. Why do you think I’m walking so fast?”
“Maybe we should turn around and go back.”
Johnny stopped suddenly and pointed toward his left. “Look there’s a clearing over there. Maybe we should go that way.”
Johnny turned to his friend and said, “I thought you knew your way around on this farm. You should be the one giving directions. Are you lost?”
Susie looked around with a puzzled look on her face, “I thought I knew the way. I just don’t remember the woods taking this long to get through. I might be a little confused.”
“Oh great, you’re lost. And if you’re lost I’m lost too. Can you find your way back out of here?”
Trying to sound braver and more confident than she really felt Susie said “Sure, we just go back the way we came.”
“Right, we took so many twists and turns on the way here, I lost track of where we came from. I bet you did too!”
“I think I know what we need to do.”
“So do I, we need to pray. God knows where we are and He can keep us safe.”
Susie smiled broadly, “That’s right Johnnie. He can and He will!”
Johnny began, “Lord, you know where we are and how to get us out of here. Please show us the way out.”
Susie joined in, “Yes Jesus, please help us to find our way out.”
They both said together “Amen!”
Johnny then turned and looked all the way around him said with a more determined tone, “Let’s head toward the gap in the trees over there. If we can get out of these woods, I’m sure we can get back to the farm house.”
Susie, immediately perked up and said, “Ok Johnny, lead on.”
So off they went. Johnny led and Susie followed closely behind him. After a bit they were walking shoulder to shoulder. Each time one stepped on and snapped a fallen twig or branch they both jumped slightly and moved closer together.
Twenty minutes later at the edge of the forest, the sky had cleared and they found themselves in very bright sunlight standing on an overhang that looked down over the valley that contained Susie’s grandparents farm. They could see the farmhouse and barn in the distance.
“Wow! That sun is bright!” said Johnny, shielding his eyes. “How did we end up all the way over here?”
“I don’t know but I guess we walked farther than we thought. Look! There’s the old pond down there,” said Susie pointing off to her right and her familiar smile returning to her face.
“Wow! Somehow we managed to walk completely around it and end up all the way up here.”
“How do we get down there? I sure don’t want to go back the way we came.”
Johnny then pointed to the right but lower than Susie had, “It looks like there’s a trail over there that might take us down there. All we have to do is to follow this overhang till we get to it.”
Beaming at Johnny, Susie said, “Well? What are we waiting for?”
“I think we need to thank God for getting us out of the forest.”
“That’s right, Johnnie, we do. Let’s do it now.”
They joined in prayer. “Thank you, Lord for bringing us out of the forest. Now help us to get back to the farm safely.” They looked at each other and said, “Amen!”
So off they went walking along the edge of the overhang and sometimes hanging onto tree branches to keep their balance.
Just as they approached the trail, they realized that they would have to cross a shallow, but wide and mostly frozen over creek to get to it.
After looking at the creek Johnny turned to Susie and said, “Whoa! That looks too wide to jump.”
Susie craned her neck looking up and downstream to see if there was another spot they could cross. “The underbrush is too thick to try anywhere else. It looks like we have to cross here or go back through the woods.”
Just then Johnny spotted a low branch hanging over the creek. “You know, we might be able to grab that branch and swing across.”
Before Susie could respond, Johnny had jumped up to grab the branch. He got a hold of it and began to swing but couldn’t hold on all the way across. He dropped onto the icy creek bed and his feet immediately slid downstream.
Susie watched in horror as Johnny began to fall and reached out to catch him but only succeeded in grabbing his coat pocket. That grip on Johnny pulled her off balance toward the creek bed and she fell toward him.
Soon the two of them were sliding down the iced over creek bed like it was a bobsled course. Johnny was feet first with Susie still gripping his pocket going down headfirst.
They careened downhill, getting faster by the minute, all the time bouncing off of the creek sides until they eventually shot out of the creek bed and across the old pond. At that point, they began spinning around like cartwheels.
They eventually came to a stop near the far side of the creek where they sat up and tried to get their bearings. Johnny was just about to speak up when they heard a familiar voice, “If you two are done ice dancing, maybe you’d like a ride back to the house.”
They looked up to see Susie’s Grampa Johnny with his horse drawn wagon at the edge of pond chuckling. Susie and Johnny looked at each other and then they began to laugh too.